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FiiO X3 2nd gen Ultraportable Hi-Res DAP

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Pros: Sound quality, build, form factor, usability, interface, output power, versatility, boot speed, features/versatility

Cons: UI features not yet perfect (hierarchical menus artist/album/track), scroll wheel while mechanically firm still has “play” in use

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INTRODUCTION

I’m a proud owner of the Fiio X5 and X1 – they’ve been my go to DAPs for some time now, and I use both daily.  The X1 for when I want ultimate portability, and the X5 when I need a little more power, and also want the added level of refinement it brings. I’ve been using Fiio audio equipment for some time now, and have watched them evolve from a fledgling company to becoming a serious player in the personal audio world , with IMO some fantastic equipment that both sounds and measures impressively well, and gives incredible value for money.

 

When I heard that Fiio were looking at revamping their X3 DAP (the first DAP they released) I immediately contacted Joe to ask if I could be included in a tour “Down Under”. Joe went a step further, organising me one of the early review samples – and I’m very thankful for the opportunity. At the completion fo this review, I’ll be organising an Australia/NZ tour for this unit – so that other Head-Fiers can also get a chance to review and compare the X3 second generation. So far I've had the X3 second generation with me for just over 4 weeks.

 

ABOUT FIIO

 

Everyone on Head-Fi should know about the Fiio Electronics Company by now – but if you don’t, here’s a very short summary.

 

Fiio is still a relative newcomer to the audio scene when compared to the more established companies.  Fiio was first founded in 2007.  Their first offerings were some extremely low cost portable amplifiers – which were sometimes critiqued by some seasoned Head-Fiers as being low budget “toys”.  But Fiio has spent a lot of time with the community here, and continued to listen to their potential buyers, adopt our ideas, and grow their product range.  They debuted their first DAP (the X3) in 2013, and despite some early hiccups with developing the UI, have worked with their customer base to continually develop the firmware for a better user experience. The X3 was followed by their current flagship DAP (the X5) – which despite its reasonable cost (350-399) has been able to compete with models from other manufacturers costing hundreds of dollars more. More recently they released the X1 – an ultra low cost DAP (~USD 100)  which has done even more toward bringing high quality mobile audio to those on a tighter budget.  Fiio’s products have followed a very simple formula since 2007 – affordable, stylish, well built, functional, measuring well, and most importantly sounding wonderful.

 

DISCLAIMER

 

I was provided the Fiio X3 second generation as a review sample.  It will go on tour once I have finished reviewing it.  I gave listed the price as RRP of $200 - but it was sent as a review unit at no cost.  There is no financial incentive from Fiio in writing this review.  I am in no way affiliated with Fiio - and this review is my honest opinion of the X3 second generation.  I would like to thank Joe & James for making this opportunity available.

Note - I later purchased the review sample from Fiio.  I still use the X3ii most days.

 

PREAMBLE - 'ABOUT ME'.

 

(This is to give any readers a baseline for interpreting the review).

I'm a 48 year old music lover.  I don't say audiophile – I just love my music.  Over the last few years, I have slowly changed from cheaper listening set-ups to my current set-up.  I vary my listening from portable (Fiio X5, X1, X3ii and iPhone 5S) to my desk-top's set-up (PC > coax > NFB-12 > LD MKIV > HP).  I also use a portable set-up at work – either X5/X1 > HP, or PC > Beyer A200p > HP.  My main full sized headphones at the time of writing are the Beyer T1 and Sennheiser HD600.  Most of my portable listening is done with IEMs - and up till now it has mainly been with the Fidue A83, Dunu Titan and Altone200. A full list of the gear I have owned (past and present is listed in my Head-Fi profile).

 

I have very eclectic music tastes listening to a variety from classical/opera and jazz, to grunge and general rock.   I listen to a lot of blues, jazz, folk music, classic rock, indie and alternative rock.  I am particularly fond of female vocals.  I generally tend toward cans that are relatively neutral/balanced, but I do have a fondness for clarity, and suspect I might have slight ‘treble-head’ preferences.  I am not treble sensitive (at all), and in the past have really enjoyed headphones like the K701, SR325i, and of course the T1 and DT880.

 

I have extensively tested myself (abx) and I find aac256 or higher completely transparent.  I do use exclusively redbook 16/44.1 if space is not an issue.  All of my music is legally purchased (mostly CD – the rest FLAC purchased on-line).  I tend to be sceptical about audiophile ‘claims’, don’t generally believe in burn-in, have never heard a difference with different cables, and would rather test myself blind on perceived differences.  I am not a ‘golden eared listener’.  I suffer from mild tinnitus, and at 48, my hearing is less than perfect.

 

My experience with DAPs in the past had been initially with some very cheap Sony offerings, then step-ups to the Cowon iAudio7, iPhone4, iPod Touch G4, iPhone 5S, HSA Studio V3, Fiio X5 and X1.

 

WHAT I LOOK FOR IN A DAP

 

I thought I’d list (before I start with the review) what I really look for in a new DAP.

  • Clean, neutral signature – but with body (not thin)
  • Good build quality
  • Reasonable battery life
  • Easy to use interface
  • Able to drive both low impedance and (within reason) higher impedance cans without additional amping.
  • Value for money
  • Enough storage to hold either my favourite albums in redbook, or my whole library in a reasonably high resolution lossy format (for me – aac256)

 

Did I get all of this with the X3ii?  Mostly – yes, and Fiio’s track record with firmware releases tells me that anything missing at the moment will get better with time (more firmware releases). So please, sit with me for a while, and let me relay my experiences with Fiio’s latest DAP – the X3 2nd generation.

 

This is a purely subjective review - my gear, my ears, and my experience.  Please take it all with a grain of salt - especially if it does not match your own experience.

 

THE REVIEW

From this point onward, I’m going to simply call the Fiio X3 2nd generation the “X3ii” – as much for ease of typing and understanding than anything else.

 

PACKAGING AND ACCESSORIES

 

The X3ii arrived in a bright red and black box with a nice picture of the X3ii on the front cover, and some specification and feature info (in English and Chinese) on the rear.  The box is labelled as the X3K – which will be changed at some stage to the new name.

 

X3ii comes fully sealed Front of retail box Rear of retail box

 

Opening the retail box reveals an inner box and lid (black) very similar in dimensions to the inner box from the X5 – just a little taller.  Opening the lid reveals the X3ii, already encased in its silicone protective case (and also in a protective bag), cushioned inside a foam protective form fitting mould. In the top of the box was also a single card explaining the layout of the main features.

 
Retail box Retail box and inner box Inside the retail box - X3ii well protected

 

Underneath the foam 9which lifts out) there is a thinner secondary box which holds the accessories which include:

  • A USB charging / data cable (very well constructed and shielded)
  • A digital out to coax cable
  • 2 spare screen protectors for the X3ii (plus one already fitted)
  • 3 different patterned sets of stickers (for personalising your X3ii) – wood grain, carbon and USA.
  • A foldout warranty card
  • The Fiio X3ii quick start guide

 

Accessory box exposed Accessory package - stickers, cables, screen protectors and documentation USB/charging/data cable and digital out cable

 

The entire package is practical, covering everything you initially need for the player.  Materials are all good quality.

 

TECHNICAL SPECIFICATIONS

 

The tables below list most of the relevant specifications, and because Fiio’s players are likely to be compared (a lot), I’ve included the relevant information on the X1 and X5 I have also.

 

Fiio X1

Fiio X3ii

Fiio X5

Approx cost

USD 100

~ USD200 (RRP)

~ USD 349-399

Dimensions

~96 x 57 x 14mm

~96 x 57 x 16mm

~ 114 x 68 x 16mm

Weight

106g

135g

195g

Lossless file formats supported

APE, FLAC, WAV, WMA, ALAC

APE, FLAC, WAV, WMA, ALAC, DSF, DFF

APE, FLAC, WAV, WMA, ALAC, DSF, DFF

Lossy file formats supported

MP3, aac, ogg vorbis

MP3, aac, ogg vorbis

MP3, aac, ogg vorbis

Use as external DAC?

No

Yes

Yes

Battery

1700 mAh 3.7V

2600 mAh

3700 mAh

Play time

11 hours+

11 hours+

10 hours+

DAC chip used

PCM5142

CS4398

PCM1792A

Main amp chip

ISL28291

OPA1642+LMH6643

OPA1612+LMH6643

S/N (H/O)

110 dB (A-Weight)

113 dB (A-Weight)

115 dB (A-Weight)

THD+N (H/O)

<0.004%

<0.003%

< 0.0015%

Output into 16 ohm

>100 mW

>224 mW

>460 mW

Output into 32 ohm

>65 mW

>200 mW

>255 mW

Output into 300 ohm

>8 mW

>24 mW

>28 mW

Highest resolution lossless

192 kHz, 24 bits

192 kHz, 24 bits

192 kHz, 24 bits

DSD/DSF/DFF support

No

Yes - Native

Yes – converted to PCM

Output impedance (H/O)

< 2 ohms

0.2 ohm

0.26 ohm

Line Out

Yes (shared with H/O)

Yes / Separate (shared with digital out)

Yes – separate port

Digital Out

No

Yes – 3.5mm to Coax (cable supplied)

Yes – separate port, 3.5mm to Coax (cable supplied)

External storage (current)

Micro sdxc up to 128Gb

Micro sdxc up to 128Gb

2 x Micro sdxc up to 256Gb

Screen

2in colour TFT, 320x240 px

2in colour TFT, 320x240 px

IPS 400 x 360

Shell / Casing

Aluminium (silver)

Aluminium (gun-metal)

Plastic shell over aluminium body

 

BUILD QUALITY

 

The build on the X3ii (IMO) is excellent for a DAP in this price range.  The casing is a 2 piece high quality CNC aluminium alloy with a very nice brushed finish.  The colouring is also really nice (gun-metal grey), and I have to admit I prefer this to the silver/metallic colouring of the X1.  I see no blemishes on this unit – everything fits extremely well together, the corners are smooth, and the bevelling/champfering of the edges adds to the classy look. The body is essentially much the same as the X1, but the X3 is a little thicker.

 
X3ii in the included silicone skin/cover X3ii - bottom view X3ii - right side view (micro SD slot)

 

The scroll wheel is the first point of difference with the X1 and X5.  It still flows nicely, and is easy to spin, but on the X3ii it is a lot firmer, and each click is quite distinct.  On this unit there is really no side-to-side mechanical play with this unit.  Bravo Fiio – this was a point of contention with previous models, and this is a vast improvement.  The wheel, like previous models is fairly sensitive, and takes a little getting used to – but practise makes perfect, and the buttons are also very easy for advancing and reversing through menu choices. Warning though – if you expect one click to be one step through each menu, you’ll be disappointed.  The X3ii is still a little finicky with this – but I personally have no issues with usability.  YMMV here.

 
X3ii - top view X3ii - right side view X3ii - view of buttons and wheel

 

The buttons themselves are very well placed for one handed operation, and give a good tactile click.  They are also clearly labelled (a now corrected critique from the original X5). Once you know the layout (easy if you’ve used and X1 or X5), they are easy to locate on the unit, and equally easy to use unsighted (or with the screen off).

 

The ports are excellent fitting – snug and secure for plugs.   All connections feel very solid. There are two ports in the top of the unit – the headphone out, and a dedicated 3.5mm line out which also doubles as a digital plug (works with a 3.5mm to coax adaptor – which Fiio supply).  The second port switches between line-out and coax-out by software switching (in the System Setting Menu).

 

There is a single micro SD port on the right hand side of the unit – and currently handles up to 128Gb cards – but Fiio is confident that this should have no issues handling larger capacity cards as they are released.

 

On the right hand side, there is a small reset hole between the on-off button and volume buttons.

 

The screen is a 2 inch colour TFT, basically the same as the X1, and is not as vibrant as the X5’s IPS screen, but is easy to read and is clear enough for easy navigation. It does disappear a little in direct sunlight (even turned all the way up), but this can be fixed by using your hand for shade, and I think better contrasting themes will also help

 

Overall – the build for me is a solid 5/5.  The X3ii feels reassuringly solid in my hand, and in my time with it so far, it appears to me to be the most solldily built DAP Fiio has introduced yet.

 

UI (USER INTERFACE) / USABILITY

 

Please note that this is with the released firmware 0.18 beta.

 
Animated start sequence Main menu screen - easy to navigate System Settings Screen - top half

 

Let me preface by saying that for me the overall usability of the X3ii is as good OOTB as Fiio has had with any of their releases to date.  If you are used to the Fiio ecosystem – especially coming from the X5 or X1, you’ll have no problems finding your way around.

 

On starting the X3ii, you are greeted with an animated “welcome” screen – before moving to the menu.  The menu can be navigated using either the scroll wheel or buttons.  At the top of the menu is a status bar which shows (left to right) : volume, gain, current screen (or EQ status if in now playing screen) , play/pause status, sleep timer – if set, SD card in use, and battery level indicator.

 
Systems Settings screen System Settings Screen Theme Selection screen

 

The main menu choices include: now playing, category (or library access via tags), folder browsing mode, play settings, and general settings.

 

The general settings screen is very straight forward, and includes:

  • Update media library manually
  • Lockscreen settings
  • Screen timeout and brightness
  • Power off and sleep settings (including a sleep timer)
  • Software switch for line-out vs digital out
  • USB mode switch (USB or DAC mode)
  • Theme controls
  • Switch for in-line remote controls
  • Settings for file name display (title or filename), language, info about the X3ii and options to format the SD card plus totally factory reset your X3ii

 

The lockscreen switch includes 3 options which should suit most users.

 
Play Settings screen Play Settings screen 10 band graphic EQ

 

Theming has a choice of 6 preset themes.  The good news is that the set-up is very similar to X1’s so theme modding will yield plenty of aftermarket options.  When my own unit arrives, the first thing I will be doing is modding mine to use a carbon theme (which I’m currently using on my X1).

 

Updating the media library can be set to automatic or manual (I always leave mine on manual – as most of the time now I simply use folder browsing). To give you an idea of the time to update an entire library – I currently have 5795 tracks (in aac256) on it at the moment, and it takes 3 minutes and 43 seconds to update the entire library. Once again though – using manual updating means you update when you have the time.  The rest of the time there is no scanning and the X3ii is always instantly ready to use.

 
Folder browsing TF or OTG (on the go not tested) My folder set-up for folder browsing My external test track playlist

 

The Play Settings menu includes settings for:

  • Play mode (normal, shuffle, repeat track, repeat all).  These can also be accessed in play mode with the upper left button.
  • Resume mode (off, same song, and same position in song)
  • Gapless play back
  • Setting maximum, default, and fixed volume
  • Gain switch (0 or +6dB)
  • Equalizer – 10 band, with 9 presets which can all be edited.
  • L/R balance setting
  • Play through folders setting

 

The equaliser is a step up from the X1’s 7-band EQ, and the option to edit each one of the presets is really handy – especially if you have multiple headphones.  You can also custom rename these if you are familiar with modding the X3ii themes (it is pretty easy). Engaging the equaliser automatically drops the output by ~ 4dB to reduce the chance of clipping. The equaliser cannot be engaged when using the line out or digital out, and also does not work on hi-res tracks (DSD, or anything over 88.2 sample rate)

 
Test track playlist opened Artists in my folder set-up (P-R) Category Selection Screen

 

The other settings all work well, and what I really like is the option to use set volumes (I default to around 30/120) on start-up, so there are no “accidents” with a sensitive IEM and using the last setting for full cans when you last switched the X3ii off.

 

Folder mode is brilliant and I pretty much use it as my default. Some people with large libraries have been critical of Fiio DAPs in the past (too slow navigating a lot of albums/tracks) – but I’ve found using a combination of folder mode and some smart folder organising makes things flawless.  With my folders, I set up the first level using alphabetical first letters for groups of artists, then artist name in the next level, then album in the third level.  For me (with over 450 albums on board) this makes navigating a breeze. Using folder mode also gets around the 5800 track limit for tagged libraries (this has been fixed with the X5 so hopefully an eventual fix for X1 and X3ii will be forthcoming).  The other great feature with folders is the now implemented “play through folders” which automatically advances to the next folder after the last track in the last folder is completed. A suggestion for anyone using this method though – make sure your file names have the track number in them.  X3ii sorts alphanumerically, then alphabetically.  So for my album files – I use “01 name”, “02 name” etc.  If I have a 2 disck album, I’ll use “1.01 name”, “1.02 name” etc then “2.01 name”, “2.02 name”.  Again, a little forethought with library management works wonders.

 
Artists (tagged) under category Albums (tagged) when viewed under Artist Tracks (tagged( when viewed under Artist, then Album

 

In category mode you can play by song, artist, album, genre, and there are also options for favourites and playlists. Choosing artist bring a natural hierarchy of album then track (works well). Likewise album brings in track underneath the album chosen. Selecting by genre collects all the tagged genres together, but then lists everything in one selection by number first, then alpha – so for me, all my “01 filename” tags get bunched together, then “02 filename” etc.  Unless you plan on putting things in shuffle mode, it makes the genre selection useless.  It needs to be sorted by artist and album first.  Likewise, choosing by song just lumps everything (in the wrong order) into one directory.  Good if you simply want to shuffle every track in your library – useless otherwise.  This is why I primarily use folder mode.

 

I haven’t used favourites or playlists much as they have to be manually added track by track.  I find this laborious, so I simply use an external database and editor to create external playlists. This takes some getting used to, but ultimately works very well.  I save the playlists to my root directory – or you could put them in a single folder – then access them by folder mode.

 

The upper left button brings up a context menu (that is dependent on the menu you are in).  When you’re in play mode, this is a quick way to access track playing modes (including repeat, shuffle, add to favourites, and delete). Holding the buttion in now playing mode brings up album, track and bitrate information. From the main menu it brings up the play settings options.

 
All songs (tagged) under category - all jumbled Now playing screen Now playing screen with context menu enabled

 

The upper right button is a back button, and this is literally what it does – puts you back exactly to your last menu choice until you reach the main menu screen.  Pushing it again from there will take you to the now playing track window.  Pushing and holding will immediately take you to the main menu.

 

The bottom two buttons are forward, back / up, down / fast forward, rewind / next menu item / previous menu item – depending on your application.

 

The middle button is simply to select (i.e. action button).  One thing I have found – if you want to change volume – hold this button in (when screen is active) and the wheel volume control is activated.  Nice little touch.

 

The UI is reasonably responsive – but can sometimes have some small lags between button press and actual action (this includes the wheel).  One way to make this better is to have no art in the tags, and just have a single album art picture in each directory.

 

Track paused Shutdown screen


Overall – if the Apple (think latest Touch or iPhone) UI is a 10 (and that’s what I’d give it) – this initial release would come in about a solid 8 for me.  It’s usable, has plenty of features, and I believe will get better with more firmware releases.  It is miles better than some of the other DAPs I’ve used in the past (eg Studio Anniversary 3).

COMPARISONS TO X1 AND X5

I seem to have written a book so far, and I’m yet to state how good the X3ii sounds. I debated how to do this, and thought maybe the best way was to have a short comparison to the excellent sounding X5 and its younger sibling the X1, then give a short summary.

 
Fiio's X5, X3ii and X1 Fiio's X5, X3ii and X1 left side view) Fiio's X5, X3ii and X1 (top view)

 

So first vs the X5 (initially using the HM5 – easy load to drive and quite revealing):

 

The 5 is both larger and heavier.  Both are built really well – and feel like serious audio devices to me.  The screen on the X5, despite being bigger, is also a lot clearer and crisper. Tactile buttons on both units are very solid and feel firm.

 

The wheel on the X3ii is noticeably firmer, and it is easier to feel the mechanical ‘clicks’ when turning it. But the X5 wheel (at least mine is like this) is still reasonably solid and is quite easy to scroll with.  Both wheels have the same issue – where a felt ‘click turn’ does not necessarily convert to a single menu movement.  But I have no issues personally navigating with both devices.

 

A feature that the X3ii has that the X5 doesn’t, is the deep sleep mode. Basically it goes into this mode when not being used, but rather than turning itself off, it simply sleeps, without the normal battery drain.  End result – when you click the power button – “instant on”.  Both have the same volume steps (120).  With the HM5 the X5 is at 50/120 and the X3ii on 53/120 to match. I used a 1kHz test tone and SPL meter to do the volume matching.

 

Direct A/Bing (sighted), and the two DAPs sound very similar to me – and I’d have difficulty (initially) telling them apart in a blind test.  However, over time, the difference that manifests itself reasonably consistently is that the X5 sounds slightly more refined – has a softer smoother edge to notes, where the X3ii on the same tracks is very slightly sharper.  It’s only noticeable when A/Bing rapidly (same track, same volume – so I can switch quickly – plus I also have both DAPs playing same portion of the song). The difference I’m talking here is subtle though, and unless you’re doing a quick switching A/B, I don’t think you’ll notice the difference. The X3ii by itself doesn't sound the slightest bit harsh or grainy (to me anyway).

 

Tonally – they are very, very similar (good thing).

 
Fiio's X5, X3ii and X1 (right side view) Fiio's X5, X3ii and X1 (bottom view)
 

 

I couldn’t spot any differences in sound stage, and the bass weight sounds the same to me. The main difference is in the mid-range and lower treble – and again it’s just the X5 sounding very slightly smoother, more refined, cleaner.

 

I also tried both DAPs with a couple of DSF files I own (Quiles and Cloud).  So the X5 playing converted to PCM, the X3ii playing natively.  I personally didn’t notice a difference in playback – they both sound pretty incredible (they are Blue Coast Records recordings – recommended!).

 

OK – time for some fun stuff …..

HD600 – this time I had to crank the X3ii up to 75/120, and the X5 to 72/120 to volume match. Interestingly now, it was much harder to tell the two apart. Perhaps the HD600’s own tonality and laid back nature taking some of the edge of the X3ii? Anyway – the HD600 sounds excellent on both DAPs – I could listen to either one for hours.

 

 T1 – I had to add another 5 notches to both DAPs.  Again – both sound pretty good at first with the T1 (600 ohm be damned!).  Again the added refinement of the X5 has become evident though. The other noticeable thing is that while both sound pretty good – they’re both missing some of the bass impact that’s usually evident with the T1 from my desktop amps.  Interestingly – even adding the little E11K to the mix, and some of the dynamics return – more so with the subtle bas boost it also has.  Still not as good as the NFB-12 or LD MKIV – but definitely enjoyable.

 

Next vs the X1 (again using the HM5)

 

So basically very similar looking units.  X1 is skinnier and lighter.  Subjectively – love the gun-metal aluminium finish on the X3ii.  It looks stunning.  On the hardware side, the X3ii gives you a better amp (more power anyway), use as a separate DAC, native DSD support, a separate line-out, option for digital out, and slightly better battery life.

 

The wheel on this X3ii feels tighter and sturdier than the X1. Some are still going to complain that one rotational click does not necessarily mean 1 movement on whatever menu you are on – but TBH, I’ve never had any issues navigating my X5, X1 or this X3ii – so really …… YMMV.

 

The GUIs are pretty much similar – which means that we should be able to mod the X3ii themes (a good thing). All the features of the X1 are there in the X3ii, with the addition of a couple that are worthy of mention (10 band equaliser and instant on).

 

No use comparing use as a DAC in this comparison, as X1 doesn’t have the option – so onto sound.  This IS subjective – OK.  FWIW the X1 at 37/100 with the HM5 needed the X3ii on 55/120 to match. I used a 1kHz test tone and SPL meter to match.

 

Direct A/Bing (sighted), and the two DAPs sounded tonally very similar to me. Purely subjectively, the X3ii does seem to have a very slightly blacker, cleaner background (but it is really marginal).  Both sound crystal clear, dynamic, and the way they should as audiophile players. Soundstage on both appears to be the same.  Bass quantity seems to be pretty similar as well – it’s just that added sense of clarity that comes in with the X3ii – makes it seem crisper, cleaner.  Hard to put a finger on it.

 

OTHER FEATURES

 

The review wouldn’t be complete without a quick word regarding the other features the X3ii offers, and this is where (for the low RRP of USD 200) the X3ii really shows its value.

 

As a digital transport – using the 3.5mm to coax out – it works extremely well.  This is ideal for anyone who is away from home (e.g. at a Meet) and wants to test an audio chain – but with their own music.  I actually tried this feature going straight to my NFB-12.  It worked brilliantly.

 

With line-out to an external amp.  The line-out (to my ears) is essentially very clean, with no discernable noise or degradation of SQ.  I used this feature going straight to my LD MKIV, and also to the E11K.  The first thing I noticed was that the headphone out and line out essentially sounded the same to me. This is a good thing. The X3ii + LDMKIV + T1 was superb, and I ended up getting side-tracked for about half an hour with my new DSD Jazz album whilst I was evaluating.  Always a good sign.

 

Note - when engaging either the line-out or digital out - as soon as either is plugged, the X3ii automatically pauses if it was playing.

 

As a DAC.  The drivers loaded fine with Win7, and the overall operation was flawless.  They also worked OOTB with Linux.  Again the sound was superb, and after volume matching and then comparing the DAC on the X3ii with the NFB-12 (using easier to drive HM5 and borrowed Fidelio L2), the first thing I noticed was how alike the two units sounded.  I didn’t feel I was losing any SQ with the X3ii.  Both are full bodied and great sounding DACs.

 

The only issue I had with the X3ii as a DAC was getting DSD playback from within Windows.  I eventually managed it by using jplay (Foobar was being remarkably unco-operative trying to play natively).  Anyway – it worked, and the issues were more with my Windows set-up than the X3ii.

 

The killer new feature with the X3ii is deep-sleep mode (or instant on).  Basically when its idle for a while, it switches itself into an extremely low power mode rather than switching itself off.  When you go back to using it, simply tap the on button and its instantly awake and ready to go.  This is brilliant.  No slow restarting after being interrupted.

 

POWER

 

The X3ii’s amp section (like the X5’s) is a good one.  The power output is listed in the specs earlier in the review.  Basically I tested these with: HD600 @ 300 ohm, Havi B3 Pro 1, and even my T1 (all reasonably demanding loads).  With the HD600 and Havi, at no time did I feel they were being under driven, or in any way lacking (compared to my NFB-12).  Even the 600 ohm T1 was driven pretty well – just maybe lacking a little bass impact (we’re not talking a huge difference though – and still very listenable).  Volume was on low gain – but around 90/120 though.

 
HS12 stacking kit and L17 interconnect X3ii and E11K X3ii and E11K

 

With the X3ii – for most headphones (except very difficult to drive full sized), there is simply no real need to have an add-on amp. So it becomes choice rather than need.

 

BATTERY PERFORMANCE

 

Fiio rates the battery life under current firmware at around 11 hours.  I did a battery test earlier in the week on the X3ii - fully charged to fully empty.  Stet-up was:

  • Continuous play
  • Havi B3 Pro 1 playing at reasonable sound level - so around 55/120
  • Redbook FLAC

 

Total playback time was 12 hours and 10 minutes continuous play before battery depleted. Recharge time from empty to full was 3 hours and 5 minutes.

 

FORMATS TESTED

 

During my testing, the following formats were all tested with the X3ii, and all found to work pretty much perfectly:

  • Aac256 (lossy) - there is a slight 'micro' gap with the gapless - which doesn't appear during playback of the same flac files.
  • MP3 (lossy) - (V0 and CBR320)
  • Ogg (lossy)
  • WAV (lossless)
  • FLAC (lossless) - 16/44.1, 24/88.2, 24/196, 24/192
  • APE (lossless)
  • DSD (lossless- native)
     

VALUE & SUMMARY / CONCLUSION

Testing with the HD600 and T1 Testing with IEMs (Havi, Titan and A83) and easier to drive headphones (HM5 and L2)

 

I tested the X3ii with a variety of headphones over the last 4 weeks - including:

  • full sized - T1, HD600, HM5, Fidelio L2
  • IEMs - A83, Titan, Havi B3 Pro1, Altone200, and many others (see profile)

 

With the IEMs, at no stage did I notice any hiss from the headphone out - but YMMV.  I was unable to test with really sensitive customs (don't have access to any) - my most sensitive IEM is the A83. When using full sized headphones with the X3ii, the only headphone which may have been very slightly under-driven was the T1 - which was very slightly bass shy (compared to the output from my NFB-12), but this was only very slight, and I had great enjoyment with the T1 straight out of the X3ii alone.

 

Value is going to be very dependent on the features you require most for your DAP.  Where I see the niche for the X3ii is that it bridges the gap between X1 and X5 – bringing high portability and brilliant form factor from the X1, and better overall SQ, driving capability, and total feature package (use as DAC, separate line-out / digital-out etc) from the X5.  The fact that it comes reasonably close to the feature set, power and SQ of the X5, and achieves this at almost half the RRP is incredible, and really at this price range, I can’t think of another DAP that I’ve heard that comes close.  I’ve had a PONO with me for the last few days, and to be honest I’d even take the X3ii over the PONO at half the money (and the PONO SQ is really very good).

 

This is an incredibly good sounding DAP, with an excellent overall feature set, and will definitely be getting daily use from me – possibly even more so than my X5.  It won’t replace the X5 – simply because there IS the added refinement, power and storage the X5 possesses.  But it will make a great companion, and I fear that now I will probably not be using my X1 very much in the future because of how good the X3ii is.

 

At USD200 this DAP deserves a 5 star rating – but I’ll give Fiio a 4.5 because I do think they can make further improvements on the GUI.

 

FINAL THANKS

 

Again – my apologies for the length of the review.  I really couldn’t do it any other way without glossing over essential information.  My thanks to Joe and James for the opportunity to be part of the early review team.  I will genuinely miss this unit when I send it away next week on its Australasian tour.

 

As I've been editing this review prior to posting (so basically for the last 2-3 hours), I'm still using my T1's straight from the headphone-out of the X3ii - and it sounds phenomenal!

 

Posted

Pros: Excellent sound quality, feature rich, very good build.

Cons: Display quality & playlist management can be improved.

Many Thanks to Fiio for the review sample!
I`ve been a Fiio user for some time. Currently I have Fiio X3 (1st gen) and Fiio E12DIY amp. Also had Fiio X5 before, and I reviewed Fiio X1 a while ago. So far my experiences with Fiio products have been positive.

 

Review sections:

Summary, Pros & Cons, Suggestions for improvement.
Sound Quality & Comparisons.
Features & Measurements.

 

 

 

 

 

Summary

Design wise, Fiio X3 2nd gen looks closer to Fiio X1, and very different from the older Fiio X3. The heart of the player is DAC chip Cirrus Logic CS4398, which is also used in higher end players such as Astell&Kern AK120 II and AK240. X3 2nd gen supports playback of both PCM and DSD, all the way up to PCM 24bit-192kHz and DSD128. Not only it supports most of the common audio file formats, it also supports CD image formats (wav / flac / ape + .cue) and SACD ISO image. Basically it plays nearly almost all common audio formats.

 

 

 

Beside as a standalone player, Fiio X3 2nd gen also functions as USB DAC. As USB DAC it also supports both high resolution PCM and DSD format as well. While PCM support is up to 24bit-192kHz, in DAC mode DSD support is only for DSD64. Probably it will support DSD128 as well in the future, but as the time of this review, only DSD64 is supported in DAC mode. Nevertheless, for such a small player in this price range, those features are already very impressive.

 

A few features that I consider improvement from X3 are:
Sleep or hibernation after a certain time of idles, instead of total power off. We know that iPod already implemented this long time ago, but this is a great improvement from previous Fiio players. After idle for a few minutes (adjustable from 1 to 8 minutes), the player goes to hibernation mode, and consuming less than 5 mW during hibernation. And the player will immediately ON when we press the power button. Anyway, even without this feature, X3 2nd gen starts pretty fast, from power off to ready to use in less than 10 seconds.
Improved EMI immunity. My experience with Fiio X1, X3, and also iBasso DX90, they might get interfered by phone EMI, and occasionally I can hear EMI noise when hold them side by side with my smartphone. But so far none with Fiio X3 2nd gen. The all-metal chassis function as an excellent EMI shield for the player. Watch the video below showing EMI test on X3 2nd gen and other players.

 

 

 

Feature rich is not good enough without good sound quality. Don't be fooled by the modest price tag, Fiio X3 2nd gen sounds way beyond its price tag, both the headphone output and line output sound quality. What impresses me most is the soundstage. It has 3D holographic imaging that has been greatly improved from 1st generation X3. Imaging is more 3D, wider, and more spacious, with good layering and better depth. Also quite accurate in instruments separation & placement. Hall's acoustic portrays realistically. The improved soundstage greatly improved the music listening experience.

 

Although the old X3 has more powerful headphone output than X3 2nd gen, but most of the time the extra power doesn't translate to better sound on IEMs, and even on some full size headphones. Headphone output of the X3 2nd gen has more than enough power for most IEMs. X3 2nd gen sounds powerful with all earphone / IEMs I've tested. Therefore, IMHO, the more refined sound quality of Fiio X3 2nd gen with its spacious holographic imaging is preferable than the high power output of the X3. I've also tested X3 2nd gen to drive some full size headphones, Philips Fidelio X1, Philips SHP9500, Shure SRH840, Audio-Technica ATH-MSR7 & Audio-Technica ATH-M50, no driving issue at all, X3 2nd gen drove them with full authority, spacious imaging, detailed, with good quality & powerful bass. Really impressive to hear this little player drives those full size headphones, it really has good driving power.

 

Beside the imaging quality that impresses me most, X3 2nd gen has a very neutral tonality. It has excellent detail, clarity, and transparency, at the level that is just right, before entering to the analytical region. Both line and headphone outputs have good bass and treble extension. Dynamic is surprisingly quite lively. Transient is fast and snappy. Bass has good punch and speed, with good texture, at neutral level, without any bass emphasize or de-emphasized. Detail and clarity are excellent, clean sounding with realistic transparency, without sounding analytical. The headphone output can drive some low impedance full size headphones really well, with sound quality that pretty much conveys the quality of the DAC, and relatively sounds as good as the line output.

 

It could be due to the dual clocks in X3 2nd gen are very well implemented and perform better than X3 clock, or it could also be due to better design of the analogue output stage, or other improvements. But one thing for sure, Fiio have done it well on X3 2nd gen. It is not only feature rich, but to my ears it has the sound quality that is simply punches through its suggested price tag. Overall I rated it a little less than 5 stars due to mostly the quality of the LCD display, and playlist management that could be improved. But for sound quality alone, I would rate it 5 stars. Kudos to Fiio!

 

 

 

Pros:

Exceptional sound quality from such a small and affordable player.
Feature rich. It has almost everything we could expect from a modern player in this category.
Sleep / Hibernation mode.
Good battery life.
Very good all-metal chassis build quality with excellent EMI immunity.

 

Cons:

LCD display could be improved, especially for day time outdoor usage.

Not the best playlist management.
Silicon protective cover easily attracts dust and lint.

 

Suggestions for improvement:

Higher contrast and better resolution LCD display.
Better material for the protective cover, material that doesn't attracts dust and lint. 
Beside 'pure mode' line output, fix gain and without equalizer, it would be a nice feature if user can choose to enable volume and equalizer for the line & SPDIF output.
Option to enable headphone output when the line or SPDIF output is connected.
Option to enable and disable battery charging in USB DAC mode.
Option to disable volume lock feature when screen is off.
Larger database capacity for the library to manage more than 5800 songs.
Automatic playlists such as: Recently played lists, Most frequently played lists, and Recently added lists.

 


 

 

 

 

Sound Quality & Comparisons

 

The sound signature of Fiio X3 2nd gen is clean, detailed, spacious, and transparent, without sounding analytic. The detail and transparency sound natural, and not over emphasized to make it entering the analytic category. Overall tonality is neutral with very good spaciousness and driving power. It significantly sounds more spacious, with better imaging than the older X3. Clarity and detail are also improved from X3. X3 2nd gen is not a warm and mellow sounding type of player, but also not the harsh and analytic type. It has excellent perceived detail with the right level of smoothness to make it sounds musical. Driving power is good on X3 2nd gen, most of IEMs and full headphones I tried with it sound well driven.

 

Personally I'm impressed with the sound quality of Fiio X3 2nd gen, and it has been my daily player for the last 2 months now. I found that it has good matching ability with most of the IEMs and headphones I tried, with my favourite pair would be to pair it with DUNU DN-2000. Simply a wonderful sounding portable system, probably one of the best neutral sounding portable system for under $500. Beside DN-2000, ATH-IM50 also matches beautifully with X3 2nd gen. The transparent and spacious X3 2nd gen complements the warm and bassy signature of IM50 really well. Resulting a full and spacious sounding, powerful bass with clear and full bodied mids, and silky smooth treble. Listening to both DN-2000 and ATH-IM50 paired with Fiio X3 2nd gen, are truly addictive.

 

 

 

Previously DX90 was my daily player since last year, now using X3 2nd gen for 2 months somehow I don't feel that I missed my DX90. They have different sound signature, and DX90 still has slightly better transparency and treble sparkles, but X3 2nd gen sound quality is good enough to make me not missing my DX90 for daily commuting. X3 2nd gen smaller size is also more comfortable in the pocket.

 

Pairing Fiio X3 2nd gen with portable amplifier Fiio E12DIY (Op-Amp OPA827 + Buffer LME49600), I was simply impressed by how well they drive my Sennheiser HD800. They manage to give body to HD800 mids and bass, while maintaining good detail and transparency. While not really quite up to the level of good tube desktop amp which I prefer for HD800, this small system is good enough that I would confidently bring them around in a headphone meet or local shops to test IEMs and headphones. Recently I brought this pair, X3 2nd gen + E12DIY to a local shop to audition MrSpeakers Ether, and they don't disappoint. They have good tonality, power, with excellent detail and imaging. Impressive!

 

 

Testing MrSpeakers Ether at local headphone shop

 

 

 

Comparisons

During the more than 2 months period, I've compared it with other players:
Fiio X3 (1st generation, Ver. 3.3)
Apple iPod 6th Generation 80 GB (Ver. 1.1.2)
iBasso DX90 (Ver. 2.1.0)
Astell&Kern AK100 (Ver. 2.4)

 

As for the Fiio X3 2nd gen itself, the latest firmware version I tried for this review is version 1.1.

 

Main headphones and earphones used for comparisons:
Audio-Technica MSR-7, Shure SRH840, Yamaha HPH-200, DUNU-DN2000, DUNU-DN-1000, DUNU Titan 1, and ATH-IM50.

 

 


Comparison with Fiio X3 (1st generation)

Fiio X3 is using Wolfson WM8740 professional DAC and AD8397 high current op-amp. Fiio X3 2nd gen is using Cirrus Logic's top-flight CS4398 DAC and OPA1642+LMH6643 for the amp section. To me, X3 2nd gen is totally a different player than X3 1st gen. What puts them together is only their price which is within the $300 price bracket. Other than that they don't have many things in common.

 

Most noticeable difference in sound character is the imaging. Switching from X3 to X3 2nd gen I can hear better, and more spacious soundstage, better depth, and clearer instrument separation. X3 soundstage sounds a little flat and congested when compared to X3 2nd gen. The 3D & spacious imaging adds a lot of pleasure in music listening, and probably the best improvement of X3 2nd gen over X3.

 

Besides that, X3 2nd gen sounds more transparent than X3, not much, but audible. Nothing wrong with X3 treble, but X3 2nd gen sounds like it has smoother upper treble extension, so treble sounds silky smooth, more airy and transparent. X3 2nd gen has slightly better micro detail, and sound slightly more refined than X3.

 

There is also improvement on power efficiency on X3 2nd gen, it doesn't heat up as much as X3. X3 will gets quite warm after sometime, especially when kept in less ventilated place, like in a bag or pocket. So far I didn't have any heat issue with X3 2nd gen, at max it only gets a little warm. Power efficiency seems to be better on X3 2nd gen, smaller battery, yet longer playing hour and less heat. Beside that I also found the navigation is a little easier on X3 2nd gen, requires less button clicks with the scroll wheel.

 

 

 

 

Aside from their sound quality, in my opinion, the following are some features of each model that can be considered better than the other:

 

X3 1st generation:
1. Analog circuit bass and treble adjustment that sounds good, and works even when playing high resolution PCM and DSD format, where digital EQ of both models doesn't work for DSD, and only works up to 48 kHz PCM.
2. More powerful headphone output.

 

X3 2nd generation:
1. Plays DSD 128 and DSD ISO image. Well, practically to me this feature is not very important, but YMMV.
2. More efficient battery consumption, less heat and slightly longer playing time.
3. Scroll wheel for easier navigation.
4. Hibernation mode.
5. Playback from USB OTG storage.

 

Both are excellent players in their category. Sound quality wise, both won't disappoint at their price point. Features wise, easy to use and user friendliness, I prefer X3 2nd gen.

 

 


Comparison with Apple iPod 6th Generation 80 GB

My iPod is probably too old to be compared with the new X3 2nd gen, but just for comparison sake I will write a brief comparison between them.

 

The 2 x 30mW iPod headphone output is no match for the X3 2nd gen more powerful headphone output. X3 2nd gen has better driving power, bass has better texture, tighter, and punchier than iPod. Fiio X3 2nd gen also has better detail and faster transient. Upper treble is more extended on X3 2nd gen, and overall sounds more transparent than iPod.

 

I used my iPod classic for years, and it is more or less retired early last year. It is a nice sounding player, smooth, polite, with friendly sound characteristic, but it is rather too old, and doesn't offer many features as compared to modern players. Limited playable formats, no line output, no USB DAC function, etc. But I think iPod has better UI, and especially the automatic playlists, the recently added, recently played, and Top 25 most played playlists are quite useful.

 

Size comparison with Samsung Galaxy S4 and iPod classic 6th gen.

 

 


Comparison with Astell&Kern AK100 (first generation)

AK100 20 ohms output impedance might not be suitable for some multi drivers IEMs, so for fair comparison, I mostly use single driver IEM, but also tried the DN-1000 and DN-2000 hybrid just for comparison. For example, DUNU DN-2000 has wonderful matching with X3 2nd gen, it sounds transparent and holographic, with excellent detail. on AK100, DN-2000 bass is slightly boosted, and treble level is slightly less than X3 2nd gen. Overall still sounds balanced and enjoyable, and I do like AK100 pairing with DN-2000. With DN-1000, the difference is even more audible, as DN-1000 starting to lose its transparency on AK100.
The difference is quite audible between X3 2nd gen & AK100 when comparing them using multi driver IEM.

 

Operation wise, X3 2nd gen feels quicker and more responsive than AK100. Probably due to simpler OS and the lack of touch screen. As for the size, AK100 is smaller. About similar width and thickness, but much shorter.

 

AK100 sounds warmer and a little smoother than X3 2nd gen. AK100 also has slightly stronger and fuller bass presence. While X3 2nd gen sounds more transparent and open sounding. Vocal sounds fuller and more intimate on AK100, and overall I do prefer the smooth and intimate vocal on AK100 for pop music. If you like open sounding vocal, X3 2nd gen vocal sounds a tad more open and transparent. But the difference is not much. I also notice that the perceived transient is slightly faster on X3 2nd gen. Both have good imaging, with excellent detail and dynamic. Though the price difference is quite high here, IMHO X3 2nd gen doesn't sound inferior to AK100. They do have different character, but I don't hear one player to be inferior to the other. It is all depending on personal preferences, as well as matching the right earphone to the player. For example with ATH-IM50, X3 2nd gen transparent signature really helps to balance the warm and bassy signature of the IM50, in this case, better than AK100. While AK100 might be better on other pairing. In general, those who like smooth & warm character with stronger bass will find AK100 is preferable, while those who prefer transparency will find X3 2nd gen is really a good deal.

 

 


Comparison with iBasso DX90

DX90 sounds a little more transparent and powerful than X3 2nd gen, with better dynamic. DX90 treble sounds more extended with more treble sparkles. It also makes DX90 a little more prone to sibilant as compared to X3 2nd gen. Bass punches harder and fuller on DX90. Both the sparkling treble and more powerful bass make DX90 sounds livelier. But vocal sounds a little smoother on X3 2nd gen, less grain, more focused and rounded. Sometime I do like vocal of the X3 2nd gen a little better than DX90, especially with matching IEMs such as DN-2000 and ATH-IM50. DX90 vocal may sounds a little sharp and grainy sometime. But again it comes back to matching. With smooth sounding full size headphones like my new ATH-R70x, DX90 sounds better, more open sounding with better detail.

 

Soundstage presentation is rather different between the two. DX90 imaging is perceived wider, while X3 2nd gen is perceived deeper. Both have excellent capability to produce 3D holographic imaging.

 

I observed that sound quality between low and high gain on X3 2nd gen is quite consistent. While on DX90 I always set it to high gain due to noticeably better sound quality at high gain. DX90 sounds tighter with better driving capability at high gain.

 

Though in general, I feel that DX90 is still a better sounding player, but the difference is not night and day despite of the double price. And X3 2nd gen comes pretty close.

 


Size comparison with AK100 & DX90:

 

 

 

 

 

 

Features & Measurement

 

Fiio has listed most of the features of X3 2nd gen here:
http://www.fiio.net/en/products/39

 

The following are some of the features I would like to highlight or have been tested.

 


Line Output & SPDIF Coaxial Output

Beside the headphone output, there is a switchable multi-function output, for analogue line output and digital SPDIF coaxial output. Selection is done in system settings menu. Headphone output is disconnected when line output or SPDIF output is connected.

 

 

 

Line output level is fix at 1.45 Vrms (measured 1.46 Vrms), bypassing the digital volume control and digital equalizer. Probably due to the limitation of the battery voltage, the level is slightly below the standard 2 Vrms for line output. Some users provided feedback that it would be nice if there is an option to enable variable gain and equalizer for the line output.

 

SPDIF coaxial output connector pin assignment is different than the X3 and iBasso DX90. That means, we cannot use SPDIF cable from X3, for the X3 2nd gen SPDIF output. Older X3 and DX90 use the Tip and Shield of the 3.5 mm connector for SPDIF output. X3 2nd gen use the 4 poles TRRS 3.5 mm connector. From the Tip, Ring 1, Ring 2, & Shield (TRRS), X3 2nd gen SPDIF output uses the Ring 2 and Shield poles. Ring 2 connected to the ground or shield of the RCA connector, while the Shield pole of the 3.5 mm connected to the Tip of the RCA connector. So it is similar to CTIA standard for TRRS phone connector, the SPDIF coaxial output uses the microphone pole for the SPDIF signal. The new arrangement is quite make sense, since the SPDIF is sharing the same port with the line output.

 

 

 

The SPDIF coaxial output works for all PCM sampling rates from 44.1 kHz up to 192 kHz, including 88.2 kHz and 176.4 kHz. SPDIF output sampling frequency follows the sampling frequency of the audio file.

 

The interesting part of the SPDIF output is when X3 2nd gen playing DSD64 files. Instead of muting, the SPDIF output will output 88.2 kHz PCM signal, converted from the DSD64 files. So X3 2nd gen functions as DSD to PCM converter. Brilliant! But please take note, DSD128 is not supported by the SPDIF output, therefore when the multi-function output is set to 'Coax Out', DSD128 files are not playable. In order to play DSD128, the output must be set to Line Out.

 

 

 


CTIA Inline Remote

Another interesting feature is the compatibility with inline remote. Using earphones or IEMs with microphone and inline remote, the remote middle answer button functions as the following on X3 2nd gen:
1 click: Play or stop
2 clicks: Next song
3 clicks: Previous song

 

Please take note, X3 2nd gen only supports the more common CTIA standard, not the less common OMTP headphone jack standard. More info here:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phone_connector_(audio)

 

 


USB DAC & USB OTG

Beside a standalone player, X3 2nd gen also functions as USB DAC. All PCM sampling rates from 44.1 kHz up to 192 kHz are supported, including DSD64 format. DSD128 is not supported in DAC mode. Probably not yet. DSD playback method in foobar is using the common DoP Marker setting.

 

 

 

 

The micro B USB port also supports USB OTG storage. Using the common USB OTG cable for Android smartphone or tablet, X3 2nd gen can access flash storage connected to the OTG cable. I tested PNY 128GB USB 3.0 flash drive (formatted in exFAT), as well as Transcend USB 3.0 card reader to read micro SD, so far the OTG function works well. This feature is quite useful especially if we have a full micro SD in the player, but want to try some audio files with the player. Simply copy the files to a flash drive, and plug it to the OTG cable.

 

 

 


Storage

Officially supported file format is FAT32, up to 128GB maximum capacity, and it is recommended to use the player to format the micro SD card. Nevertheless, I found that X3 2nd generation (firmware v1.1) supports exFAT file system as well. At the time of this review, I haven't seen this feature mentioned on Fiio website, but I have tested both 64GB micro SD and 128GB USB flash drive connected using OTG cable, both formatted in exFAT, and both were supported by X3 2nd gen. I have tested exFAT cluster size 32kb, 128kb, and 256kb, all work. Though during testing, exFAT file system works fine most of the time, but some users reported that occasionally they have issues playing 24/192 PCM files and DSD files from exFAT storage. exFAT support is probably still in early stage and need further development, but this is a good sign to support larger storage in the future.

 

 


Media Library

The media library scanning is quite fast, faster than DX90 and AK100. It scans 1114 songs in about 21 seconds. Currently, with firmware 1.1, media library maximum capacity is 5800 songs. Not sure if the capacity will be expanded in future firmware update, but IMHO, 5800 is generally sufficient for 64GB storage. With 64 GB micro SD, in average we could use around 59.5 GB of storage space. Averaging some of my collection, around 2739 songs, a mixture of MP3 320kbps & AAC 512kbps, resulting an approximate of 11 MB file size per song. It means, for high quality lossy formats, 59.5 GB could hold around 5400 songs. Most of my songs are in FLAC format (mixture of standard and high resolution), which is in average around 4-5 times larger than 320 kbps MP3 file. Therefore the 5800 songs of media library capacity is quite sufficient for 64 GB storage, especially for mixture of lossy and lossless formats. But when 128 GB is getting cheaper and more popular, it might not be enough for a collection with mostly lossy formats.

 

But please take note, that this 5800 capacity is 'Media Library' capacity, and not X3 2nd gen file browsing capacity. The file browser is not limited by the media library capacity. We can have 128GB storage with much more than 5800 songs, and we can browse them all using the file browsing feature. Since most of my song collections are folder organized, I never used the media library so far, and always use file browser to select songs. So the 5800 limitation is not relevant if we browse our songs using file browser. But I could imagine if in the future the playlist management has been much improved, more will start using the media library function, and with 128GB storage, the 5800 capacity will need to be expanded.

 

 


File Formats

Tested the following file formats & sampling rate, except the DXD format, all are playable, including DSD files, both DSF and DFF format, in both DSD64 and DSD128 resolution.

 

 

 

 

 


CD & SACD Image

Supporting various common audio formats is probably not something unique these days, but playing CD images and SACD ISO images directly from the player is not what many portable players claim able to do. This is especially useful for those who backup their collection of CDs and SACDs as images.

 

I've tested the following CD images format:
CD_Image.ape + CD_Image.cue
CD_Image.flac + CD_Image.cue
CD_Image.wav + CD_Image.cue

 

 


All are playable on X3 2nd gen. Only gapless playback on CD image is still not perfect, with a very short, probably around 0.3-0.4 second gap. Hopefully future firmware upgrade will fix it.

 

The neat way to organize the image files is probably to put each of the image file in a separate folder, with proper naming. But we have the option to put all the CD images together in the same folder. The displayed artwork for the CD Image playback will follow the file name of the CD image file. So just name the artwork jpeg files accordingly, with the same file name as the associated CD image, and X3 2nd gen will display the artwork accordingly.

 

 

 

 

 

Also tested SACD ISO image that was placed in a folder together with artwork jpeg file with different file name, and X3 2nd gen has no problem displaying the artwork file while playing the SACD ISO file.

 

Please take note some of the following limitations for DSD playback. Some SACD ISO images might be in DST format (compressed DSD) and is not supported by X3 2nd gen. The solution is to convert the ISO image to DFF files, with DST to DSD conversion option selected. When I found some the SACD ISO images were not playable by X3 2nd gen, I was not aware of the DST codec. I have to thank @WayneWoondirts for the tips to check the DST codec! ISO image in DST format may be converted to DFF files using Sonore ISO2DSD (freeware). The other limitation is surround DSD files. Fiio X3 2nd gen is a stereo player, meaning DSD 5.0 and 5.1 files are not supported. Only 2.0 DSD file is supported.

 

 


Display Quality & User Interface

There is not much improvement for the LCD display from previous X3, most probably to keep the cost low. But I do hope that in the next generation X3, Fiio would improve the quality of the LCD display, especially to improve the contrast & resolution. It is difficult to use the display in bright outdoor condition. And it would be nice to have higher resolution display.

 

 

 

In my opinion, the new wheel navigation is preferable over the buttons navigation on the old X3. The X3 2nd gen wheel and buttons arrangement are quite intuitive and easy to use. User interface has also been improved and quite user friendly.

 

What I would like to be improved is the back button behaviour and playlist management.

 

1. I prefer for the back button to have the following behaviour:
Short click from the currently playing song is dedicated to always bring back one level up to the song file directory, or one level up of the playlist hierarchy, for example back to the list of songs in the album.
Currently, once we long press the back button to go to the home menu, when we go back to the currently playing song, when we short click the back button, it won't bring us back to the song's folder or album, but goes back to home menu.

 

2. Automatic playlists such as:
Recently played:
Songs; Albums; Folders; Artists
Most frequently played:
Songs; Albums; Folders; Artists
Recently added:
Songs; Albums; Folders; Artists

 

Something like this:

 

 


Equalizer

Equalizer is standard 10 bands digital equalizer with +/- 6 dB adjustment. Equalizer only works for PCM files with sampling rate 44.1 kHz and 48 kHz. It doesn't function for higher sampling rate and DSD files. When EQ is on, it reduces the whole level by 6 dB to provide a 6 dB headroom for EQ adjustment.

 

 

 

This is quite a common implementation in today's digital audio players. I would like to suggest a slightly different approach to Fiio (and other vendors). I suggest integrating the digital volume and the digital equalizer, so headroom calculation can be done in an integrated manner. Instead of cutting the volume by 6 dB immediately when EQ is activated, why not just reduce the maximum volume instead. For example, if maximum volume is let say 18 dB without EQ, when EQ is activated maximum volume is reduced to 12 dB max, providing the 6 dB headroom for EQ. The digital volume control is limited to 12 at max when EQ is activated, instead of 18 dB max without EQ. The reason is, when using IEMs, we seldom use near the maximum volume, so there will be some headroom from digital volume control that can be used for EQ. When EQ is activated, users don't have to experience that the overall volume is reduced, because EQ is using the leftover headroom from the digital volume control. Only the maximum level of the volume control is reduced when EQ is activated. In headroom calculation, it might looks the same, but different user experience, since user no longer has to adjust the volume when activating EQ.

 

For example, maximum volume of X3 2nd gen is at level 120, and -6 dB from maximum is at level 108 (the same for both high and low gain). So, just make it that when equalizer is enabled, reduce the ceiling of maximum volume level from 120 to 108. Most of the time my listening volume with my IEMs, DN-2000, DN-1000, ATH-IM50 are only in the range from 40 to 70. If the ceiling of max volume is lowered from 120 to 108, it is not affecting the playback volume, and I don't have to adjust the volume when enabling equalizer. My 2 cents ;)

 

 


Power Management and Battery

Mentioned earlier, the newly implemented sleep / hibernation feature is a very welcomed feature. Sleep when idle can be set between 1 to 8 minutes. Sleep mode is indicated by blue LED. The LED will turn off when in sleep mode, and the player consumes less than 5 mW of battery power. To activate the player, press the power button.

 

From my experience, battery life is pretty good. Though battery life varies by many factors, with more than 2 months of almost daily use, I don't feel the battery capacity is lacking.

 

X3 2nd gen uses similar 0.8 mm P2 pentalobe screws to those found on the iPhone 4. Using the pentalobe screwdriver from generic smartphone tool kit, we can open the back of the X3 2nd gen. Pictures below shown the battery and circuit board or the X3 2nd gen. The battery seems to be removable.

 

 

 

 

DIY expert might know how to open the battery connector.

 

 


EMI Rejection

As mentioned earlier, the X3 2nd gen all-metal chassis design has improved the EMI rejection from the first generation X3. X3 also has metal chassis, but EMI rejection is not as good as the X3 2nd gen. Using X3 2nd gen, now I'm no longer annoyed by EMI when holding the audio player side by side with my smartphone.

 

The following video is showing a simple EMI test using the base of home DECT phone. The base of DECT phone is transmitting consistent radio signal, that easily interfered audio players on close distant. A simple electromagnetic transmitter for EMI test.

 

 

 

The test setup is simple:
4 players: Fiio X3, Fiio X3 2nd gen, iBasso DX90, & Astell&Kern AK100.
All players were set to high gain (except AK100 which doesn't have gain adjustment), and the volume was set to 0.5 Vrms when playing 0 dBFS 100 Hz sine wave. So output level were equal.
During the test all players were playing silent track.
Headphone output of DUT (Device Under Test) connected to Line Input 1 (Left) and 2 (Right) of Zoom H6, gain set to 7.
Zoom H6 headphone output connected to a small active speaker (Creative Woof), to monitor the sound of the EMI noise.
Video recording was using Panasonic DMC-FZ1000. Sound in the video was recorded from the speaker sound using the FZ1000 build-in mic. No audio post processing.

 

http://youtu.be/OQsoGI-uzYE

 

From the Zoom H6 recorded file, we can see that Fiio X3 2nd gen has the best EMI immunity from other players in the test.

 

 

 


Headphone Output

The following is some measurement of the headphone output. I don't have lab grade accuracy measurement instruments, or dedicated audio analyzer, so the measurement result should be taken as estimated value.

 

Low gain maximum output voltage at 600 ohms: 1.345 Vrms / 3.8 Vpp
High gain maximum output voltage at 600 ohms: 2.69 Vrms / 7.6 Vpp

 

Low gain output impedance: 0.34 ohm
High gain output impedance: 0.39 ohm

 

 

 

Measured power output:

My digital oscilloscope doesn't do THD measurement, but it has FFT feature. Power output criteria is maximum output at less than 1% THD. To estimate the maximum output voltage before the waveform get distorted, I visually monitor the waveform on oscilloscope, and monitor the FFT window to keep the harmonic distortion is less than 40 dB (100 times) from the main frequency.

 

Maximum volume before distortion, at 20Hz & 200Hz on 15 ohms load (at volume 106 - high gain):

 

 

 

Waveform started to get distorted, at 20Hz & 200Hz on 15 ohms load (at volume 107 - high gain):

 

 

 

For low impedance load, I made a custom cable as shown below, where the load is connected using 4 pins XLR. This way I can use the cable with various load, including balanced headphone.

 

 

 

Maximum output voltage at high gain, at 15 ohms load:
At 20 Hz: 1.157 Vrms (volume @ 106)
At 200 Hz: 1.167 Vrms (volume @ 106)
Average: 1.162 Vrms
Maximum current at 15 ohms load: 1.162 / 15 = 77.5 mA

 

Maximum output voltage (Vrms) at high gain, at 600 ohms load: 2.69 Vrms

 

Calculated maximum power output @ 32 ohms: 192 mW
Calculated maximum power output @ 300 ohms: 24 mW

 

 


Line Output:

Measured output impedance: 99 ohms

Measured maximum output voltage: 1.46 Vrms

Line output is fix gain, bypassing the digital volume control and digital equalizer.

 

 


RMAA Test Results

Audio interface for RMAA test is using HRT LineStreamer+. HRT LineStreamer+ doesn't have any gain at the input stage, so it is a direct connection to the ADC stage, at 24bit-96kHz sampling rate. Line output is connected directly to HRT LS line input as shown below, while headphone output is connected with 600 ohms load (different cable).

 

 

 

Please take note:

RMAA test is only as good as the quality of the audio interface used for the measurement. And in most cases, only useful for verification purpose of the audio quality within the 20Hz to 20 kHz range. For example, most audio interface line input only have linear frequency response up to around 20 kHz, if I measure an amplifier with flat frequency response up to 100 kHz (which is common), RMAA test result will only shows frequency response up to 20 kHz. In this case RMAA test result doesn't reflect the frequency response of the amplifier under test, but the frequency response of the line input of the audio interface. Besides that, noise and total harmonic distortion result are also affected by the performance of the line input interface, which in many cases has inferior specification than the tested unit. Once again please take note, RMAA test is only for verification purpose, and not accurately reflecting the real specification of the equipment.

 

Sampling mode: 24-bit, 96 kHz

Fiio X3 2nd Generation Outputs: Line Output, Headphone Output at Low Gain & High Gain.

 

The frequency response (FR) graph is pretty close to the official FR graph published by Fiio. The HRT LineStreamer+ FR is 20Hz-20kHz in +0 / -.4 dB tolerance, so won't get better result than that even if the player FR is flatter. From the individual output result, I don't see any issue with channel imbalance. Output level balance between Left and Right channels is good.

 

 

 

That concludes my Fiio X3 2nd generation review. It is a wonderful audio player, very reasonably priced, with performance that exceeds many other players in the category. Congrats to Fiio!

 

 

 

 

Additional pictures:

 

Accessories:

 

Fiio X3 2nd gen comes with silicon protection case and screen protector. One of the screen protector already applied to the player from factory.

 

 

User Guide:

 

 

 

System Settings:

 

 

 

 

Play Settings:

 

 

 


Equipment used in this review:

 

Headphones:
Audio-Technica ATH-R70x

Audio-Technica MSR7LTD
Audio-Technica M50
Philips Fidelio X1
Philips SHP9500
Sennheiser HD 800
Shure SRH840
Yamaha HPH-200

 

Earphones / IEMs:
Audio-Technica ATH-IM50
Audio-Technica ATH-IM70
DUNU DN-1000
DUNU DN-2000
DUNU Titan 1

 

DAPs, DACs & Headphone Amplifiers:
Apple iPod Classic 6th gen 80GB
Astell&Kern AK100 (loan)
Fiio X3
Fiio X3 2nd gen
Fiio E12DIY (Op-Amp OPA827 + Buffer LME49600)
iBasso DX90
ifi micro iDSD (firmware 4.06)
Mytek Stereo192-DSD

 

Computer & Player:
DIY Desktop PC: Gigabyte GA-H77-D3H-MVP motherboard, Intel i7-3770, 16 GB RAM, Windows 7 Home Premium 64 bit SP1.
foobar2000 v1.3.3

 

Measurement & Other Instrument:
Amprobe Digital Multimeter AM-160
Amprobe Pocket Meter PM51A
Owon VDS3102 Digital Storage Oscilloscope
Velleman PCSU 200 PC Scope & Generator
Zoom H6

 

 

Some recordings used in this review:

 

Posted

Pros: Sound quality, ergonomics & build quality, scroll wheel & user interface, quick start-up.

Cons: No internal memory. Protective Case is a lint-magnet. I don’t get to keep the review unit.

Before I get into my review, I should state that I received a pre-production unit from Fiio as part of their pre-release “World Tour.” I got to keep the unit for 10 days, during which I used it extensively, before sending it on to the next reviewer on the Canadian tour. I did not have to pay for the unit (only to forward it to the next reviewer), and unfortunately do not get to keep it. Because I was reviewing a pre-production unit running beta firmware, it is quite possible that release models will feature changes and/or improvements to hardware and firmware over what is reflected here.

 

In my review I did comparisons using the X3 1st generation, Fiio E12A and Cypher Labs Picollo amps, and Sennheiser HD598 and Sony XBA-H1 headphones. I also did extensive general listening using the previously listed headphones in addition to the RHA MA750 and Audio Technica ATH CKX9. All of the above equipment is my own, paid for by me.

 

Early news of the X3 update had it called a number of things, including X3K and X3ii. The literature that came with my review unit explained that Fiio’s naming conventions are changing, and that the update will be sold as the X3 on release, with the term “2nd Generation” to set it apart from the original. For the sake of my fingers, I’ll call the new model “2G” in this review, and the original “1G.”

 

While I’ve been a music lover for decades, I am relatively new to the MidFi/HiFi/Head-Fi game, especially high quality portable audio equipment, and this is my first review. I haven’t listened to a lot of different equipment (certainly nothing in the high price, TOTL realm), so this is very much a review by a newbie, for other newbies.

 

Unboxing and First Impressions:

 

Box and notes from Fiio about the review process. Box still says X3K, but, as noted, the production model will be X3 (2nd Generation), and will simply say “X3” on the packaging.

 

 

Stuff that came with the review unit: USB cable, coaxial adaptor, 2 spare screen protectors in addition to one pre-installed, 3 sets of "body armour" stickers, and a rubberized protective case. The case is thicker and more substantial than the one that came with the 1G. Not 100% sure if this is what will come with the production models.

 

 

The unit itself: The 2G has a gorgeous finish! Full metal jacket, good heft and nicely finished all over. Feels significantly more high-end than the 1G. Horizontal screen, mechanical scroll wheel with select button in centre, menu button top-left, back button top-right, and track forward/backward at bottom of scroll wheel. Layout very sensible and intuitive.

 

 

Top Side: Headphone Out jack and switchable Line Out/Coax

 

 

Left Side: Power button and volume controls. Volume can also be controlled during playback using the scroll wheel by pressing and holding the select button in the middle.

 

 

Right Side: Micro SD slot. That is all.

 

 

Bottom: Micro USB, for charging and DAC usage. Little LED below the scroll wheel glows blue when X3 is powered on, red when charging and green when charging is complete.

 

 

2G, E12A and 1G side-by-side. In my opinion, the 2G’s colour is a better match with the E12A than the 1G.

 

 

2G and 1G are about the same thickness. 2G is about 1 mm wider than 1G (2 mm when in their cases). 2G is significantly shorter, and has a really nice hand-feel (fitting perfectly in the palm). I never was a big fan of the 1G’s elongated shape.

 

 

Other impressions:

  • As a long-time iPod user, the scroll wheel is so much more intuitive than the 1G’s diagonally arranged buttons. I’ve gotten used to the 1G over time, but it still feels clunky. I actually prefer the Fiio mechanical scroll wheel over the old iPod tactile wheel.
  • The 2G’s micro SD slot is recessed (as in, the card doesn’t stick out at all). This is an improvement over the 1G in my mind, where the SD card stuck out just a smidgeon.
  • The 2G lacks internal memory: This is one of only two faults I could find with the new X3. I have two 64 GB micro SD cards at the moment, one with Classical music, and one with Jazz, Rock, Pop, Funk, etc. With the 1G’s 8GB of on-board memory, I could have a few favourite, heavy rotation albums at my finger tips at all times without having to switch out SD cards. This is a relatively minor quibble, but a quibble nonetheless.
  • Protective silicon case: The 2G’s black silicon case is sturdier and more attractive than the 1G’s rather flimsy clear case. That said, the 2G case attracts lint lie a magnet. Again, a minor annoyance, but an annoyance.
  • User interface: I far prefer the horizontal display and user interface of the 2G over the vertical display and zig-zaggy arrangement of the icons and options on the 1G. The 2G is far more intuitive.  I won’t go into detail about the UI as Brooko and twister6 do a great job of this in their extensive reviews.
  • Deep Sleep feature: Once the 2G has been powered on and booted up for the first time, the power button acts like a sleep/wake switch, with "instant-on" feature a massive improvement over having to wait through the 1G's full boot-up cycle every time you wake the device.

 

Comparative Listening Tests:

 

As an owner of an X3 1st generation that I rarely use without either the Fiio E12A or Cypher Labs Picollo, my interest in comparing revolved around these three pieces of equipment. Even without having heard other DAPs (besides iDevices) before this review, I found the 1G to have shortcomings in sound quality, and so used it with an amp to improve sound quality and staging. Because I travel a fair bit for work and am also a runner, it would be nice to have a DAP that doesn’t require stacking with an amp when on the go, and my comparative tests were done with that in mind.

 

Test 1: X3 2nd generation (FW0.22Beta) vs. X3 1st generation (FW3.3)

 

Low Gain, EQ off, Sennheiser HD598. Tracks: Supertramp – Give A Little Bit (Even In The Quietest Moments), Joni Mitchell – Carey (Blue)

 

 

I found the 2G very slightly quieter at the same volume settings, but more balanced from low to high than the 1G. The 1G was more mid-forward with occasional sibilance in treble, some bass bleed into mids, and overall a bit muffled. The 2G mids were less prominent, with treble clearer and bass tighter and no bleed into mids. There was greater clarity and texture, and I could hear vocals and each instrument distinctly.

 

The 2G had wider soundstage and depth, with an airy freshness. Even listening un-amped, the SQ was rich and sonorous. The 1G felt like listening inside a cardboard box in comparison; sound didn’t “travel” anywhere. I stress "even listening un-amped" as I have always amped when using the HD598s with the 1G as the SQ is too restricted without. The sound quality and staging using the 2G unaided was thus a hugely pleasant surprise.

 

Test 2: 2G un-amped vs. 2G + E12A

 

Un-amped: Low Gain, EQ off, Sony XBA-H1. Amped: LO, Low Gain, EQ off, Bass Boost off, Sony XBA-H1. Track: Miles Davis – Blue In Green (Kind Of Blue)

 

 

I was surprised at how little difference I noticed between un-amped and amped. I found very slightly more instrumental separation and texture using the 2G with the E12A, but minimally so. What differences existed were certainly subtle. Trumpet and sax were perhaps a little clearer and brighter in the upper registers with the E12A. Piano was very slightly recessed through just the 2G un-amped, and cleaner and more prominent when combined with E12A.

 

I found that the 2G’s sound quality fell somewhere between the two E12A Bass Boost settings. The 2G alone was a touch more bass-forward than with the E12A and Bass Boost off, while the 2G + E12A combination was noticeably more bassy with boost on.

 

I also found soundstage differences minimal with the 2G un-amped and amped. Amping gave slightly more depth, but not to the level that I felt something was missing when listening to the 2G on its own. As mentioned already, this was a pleasant surprise as it means portability isn’t limited by the need to stack with an external amp.

 

Test 3: 2G un-amped vs. 2G + Cypher Labs Picollo

 

Un-amped: Low Gain, EQ off, Sennheiser HD598. Amped: LO, Low Gain, EQ off, Sennheiser HD598. Track: Wilhelm Kempff, Henryk Szeryng & Pierre Fournier – Beethoven Piano Trio No. 2

 

     

 

As with E12A, I didn’t find a huge difference with or without the Picollo. Kempff’s piano was ever so slightly more nuanced with the Picollo, but Szeryng’s violin was pretty much the same either way. Fournier’s cello was more textured (less buttery) without the amp in this case. The Picollo is described as a “warm” sounding amp, and that colouring came through compared to the 2G on its own, but not in a way that made me prefer one set-up over the other.

 

Conclusions of my A/B tests: First, the 2G is a significants step up on the 1G. Second, I felt less need to use an amp with the 2G compared to the 1G. I can happily use my IEMs and HD598s with just the 2G and not feel like I’m “missing out” on anything. Am less willing to use the 1G un-amped as sound quality and staging suffer. I realise that my headphones are all pretty easy to drive, so your mileage may (and probably will) vary if you’re using more power-hungry cans.

 

General, everyday listening:

 

In his review of the Pono music player on the InnerFidelity site (which I read a few days into my time with the new X3), Tyll Herstsens wrote, “Blind testing back and forth between gear may give me the opportunity to hear the differences between products, but it's difficult because most gear is only subtly different. But when it comes to long-term listening, those subtle differences can mean the large difference between an irritated or ecstatic experience.”

 

I have not listened to the Pono, and this is not a review of the Pono. As mentioned at the beginning of the review, I am relatively new to the audiophile world, and so my experience of DAPs up to now has been limited to iDevices and the X3 1st generation, sometimes on their own but usually in concert with one of my portable headphone amps (E12A, Picollo and Meier Porta Corda III). But that thought from the Pono review stuck with me with regards to my listening for this one.

 

     

 

I listened to the X3 2nd generation DAP a LOT in my 10 days with the unit, and found myself lost in my music – in listening ecstasy – over and over. Myaskovsky Cello Sonatas, Dusty Springfield, Miles Davis, Roxy Music, Gaelle, Thad Jones, Daft Punk, Beethoven Piano Trios, Rush, Doris Monteiro, Jean Michel Jarre, Al Di Meola, Rickie Lee Jones, Brahms Symphonies, Rodriguez, Supertramp, Billie Holiday, Pink Floyd, New Order, Haydn String Quartets, Fleetwood Mac, Etta James, Zero 7… I could go on (and already have a bit). In all the myriad musical styles and artistic stylings, I heard things and noticed nuances and sounds in songs and albums that I hadn’t heard or noticed previously with my other equipment.

 

 

While I did perform some A/B tests, and did find subtle and not-so-subtle differences in those tests, for me the experience in my everyday listening is what set the X3 2nd generation apart. Immersing myself in the listening experience, letting it take me away, and suddenly realizing the quality of a horn passage, a thumping bass, an exquisite electric guitar riff, a textured cello, a swirling synthesizer, a syncopated drum rhythm, a soaring vocal, a wailing sax solo, a strummed acoustic guitar, or an intimate piano run… album after album, song after song, I had moments of connection with my music that raised goose-bumps. I listened a lot, and loved every minute of it, and my ears were never fatigued – never irritated. In a nutshell, my general listening experience made me feel the X3 2nd generation is a special music player.

 

Conclusions:

 

If it isn’t obvious already, I seriously loved having the opportunity to play with the X3 2nd generation. I really was disappointed when I had to send “my” unit on to the next reviewer. I’m sure there is a lot of equipment out there that is “better” than the 2G (for the prices charged for some of the more popular equipment I see hailed in audio forums and on Hi-Fi websites, I certainly hope they’re better), but I can’t imagine you’ll find more bang for your buck right now. For someone just entering the head-fi audio game, I truly believe you can’t go wrong with the X3 2nd generation, and for those who’re already in it waist-deep, the 2G makes a strong case for consideration as your next addition to the DAP collection.

 

Thanks to Fiio for the opportunity to participate in the tour, and I hope this review was useful. If you have a question or comment, please leave feedback in the comments below.

Posted

Pros: excellent sound, compact size, battery life (w/deep sleep mode), usb DAC functionality, native DSD decoding, in-line remote headphone support

Cons: unless you are on a tight budget - makes X1 obsolete, still needs some FW work

Before I start my review, I would like to Thank FiiO and their US distributor MICCA/TekFX for providing me with a review sample of X3 2nd gen (X3 II) in exchange for my honest opinion.

 

As a diehard fan of FiiO audio products, I feel a little embarrassed how the original X3 II announcement flew under my radar.  Can't believe I almost missed it considering I used to count days before X5 and X1 releases, knowing in depth specs of those new gen FiiO DAPs that followed up their popular X3 – the original FiiO DAP that started it all.  I guess it’s very easy to get overwhelmed in today’s “DAP” market with so many new releases and announcements where unfortunately some companies pay more attention to sound quality rather than design ergonomics or the other way around with fancy looks to compensate for performance shortcomings.  Also, a trend of using popular brand name chipsets for marketing hype can stir you the wrong way if you don’t consider a fact that without experience of a proper architecture design, schematic capture, and layout tricks – not even the best and the most popular DAC going to make your DAP sound good.

 

I became a fan of FiiO not because I get a chance to review a lot of their products, but because I see they really know what they are doing, they have a clear plan of how to do it, they deliver on their promises, and they have a great support.  But going back to my "confession" intro, perhaps I was under an impression that FiiO already covered entry level DAP market with their budget X1 ($99) and upper mid-fi market with X5 ($349), while the upcoming X7 ($TBD) should make a serious dent in TOTL hi-fi market.  So where would X3 II fit in?  For starters, it can still fit in very comfortably in a pocket of your pants (lol!!!), and it got a few tricks under its supercharged X1-hood to go head-to-head with some of the more expensive DAPs.  So let’s take a closer look at what I found after testing this new release from FiiO and comparing it against their other DAPs.

 

Starting with packaging, I do appreciate FiiOs attention to details with a sturdy carton "gift" box inside of a packaging sleeve which comes handy for storage of DAP and accessories.  It definitely enhances your unboxing experience and adds to a premium feel of the product versus cheap plastic throwaway packaging.  I do have to note that considering this is an early review unit, it still has X3K label on the cover though moving forward it will be changed to either X3 or X3 2nd gen.  X3K was an early reference, similar to updated designs of E10k and E11k where "k" suffix was added to distinguish a new model.  Moving forward, the model number should stay the name, only new generation reference will be used to indicate updated version.  Also, on the back of the packaging sleeve/box you still have a comprehensive listing of main functionality and spec summary.

 

Unboxing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

With a cover off, sitting in a protective foam cutout you will find X3 with a very familiar “face” of X1 DAP dressed in a silicone black skin.  In addition to this skin and already attached screen protector, as part of the included accessories you will also find additional replacement screen protectors, a charging power/data usb to micro usb cable (quality thick cable to handle 2A charging), Coax digital patch cable, personalized skin stickers (3 sets with wood finish, carbon fiber, and USA flag?!?), warranty card, a quick start guide, and X3 II quick reference card.  Obviously, personalized stickers are for scratch protection, though I would prefer to carry X3 II naked without any stickers covering its slick titanium finish aluminum alloy body (front to back).  As a matter of fact, in comparison to X1 where the back was plastic, X3 II is all metal including a thicker metal back cover where thickness of the unit is the main physical exterior difference between X1 and X3 II.  Another interesting detail I noticed was a transparent film used on the back of the DAP - comes handy to protect back of X3 II from scratches without covering its smooth back, just wish they would include a spare set.

 

At the same time, for a piece of mind, silicone skin does a good job protecting from both scratches and minor drops, not to mention of being an excellent lint magnet lol!!!  Also, I was pleased to see FiiO guys finally added a small pinhole in silicone skin at the front bottom of the case to show power led.  Other open ports in this silicone case are micro-usb at the bottom, and 3.5mm HO at the top, with LO/Coax port cover with a rubber flap to keep dust away.  Obviously there is a cutout for navigation wheel, while 4 control buttons and volume up/down and power are covered/sealed with a raised shape imprint.  As a bonus, X3 II will have add on accessories with HS12 stack up kit (the same as X1), LC-FX3221 leather case (crafted to access all the buttons without flipping a cover), and C03 clear plastic cover case - all to be purchased separately.  If I get a hold of these accessories, I will update my review with additional pictures.

 

Accessories.

 

 

 

 

 

 

For anybody familiar with X1 footprint, physical exterior design of X3 II will be nearly identical with an exception of a slightly thicker body – only 2mm difference.  Other than that, you will be greeted with a familiar layout of 2” TFT screen (with a decent contrast and 320x240 resolution) and a mechanical scroll wheel with a large round button in the middle and 4 small round buttons in the corners.  Furthermore, you have 3 buttons on the left side where a Power button is leveled with a body of the housing (to prevent accidental power up/down) and a slightly raised volume up/down with a small dimple on volume up which you can id just by sliding a finger across it.  Buttons have a nice tactile response, and there is no rattling or shaking.  Right above the volume/up, there is a Reset pinhole, something fortunately I didn't have to use during my testing.  Micro-usb port is at the bottom, along with a pair of pentalobe screws located toward the corners.  MicroSD card (X3 II supports up to 128GB) is at the bottom corner of the right size, and at the top you have a dedicated Headphone Out (HO) 3.5mm port and a shared Line Out (LO) and Digital Coax Out port.

 

I have been enjoying FiiO’s mechanical scrolling wheel since the day I got X5.  After awhile of using it, I did find some little issues, but to this day it’s still my favorite navigation control.  I’m sure FiiO got a lot of feedback from their users, and with every new release I see the wheel being updated with further improvements.  Keeping in mind my X5 was the original production unit and X1/X3 were early preproduction review samples, here is how I would rate evolution of this navigation wheel:

 

X5 - mushy, a bit loose, no feedback, and feels plastic to the touch.

X1 - a little tighter control, some click-feedback, and still feels plastic and slippery to the touch (a wheel "friction" sticker would definitely benefit in here).

X3 - rubbery finish with a nice grip, wheel feedback with a noticeable click, a better scrolling control.

 

Design details.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After turning X3 II on, you are greeted with a fast boot up sequence.  I'm always pleased to see how with every new release FiiO firmware feels more stable and polished.  This is definitely not your typical beta software release, and actually feels mature and solid.  Obviously, FiiO didn't start it from scratch but rather found a way to port X1 firmware and GUI as a basis for X3 II.  But still, X3 II boot up and shut down time was faster than X1 and X5.  Another really cool and very useful feature FiiO added in X3 II is a new power management referred to as "deep hibernation".  Even so X3 II comes with a very capable 2600 mAh battery which I was able to verity lasting anywhere from 10hrs to 11+ hrs (depending on audio source files and listening volume level), you still get a deep sleep mode with idling to conserve battery drain down to less than 5mA of current draw.  And with a click of a Power button it wakes up instantaneously "on" again!

 

Besides a fast boot up, you also will be happy to know that FiiO continued with a same new GUI introduced in X1 - a cleaner interface in comparison to X5.  Staying consistent with their original interface, you have a status-notification bar at the top with a volume level, gain setting, menu selection, flash card presence, and battery status.  The only thing that would have been good to see in there is EQ indicator to know if it's off or on with a preset.  In the main screen section, you are presented with 5 menu choices, scrolled in a circular motion.  With a help of a scrolling wheel it's a simple operation which is comfortable for either left or right hand navigation with turning a wheel to simulate scrolling, pressing middle button for Enter/Select/Play/Pause/OK, upper left for Shortcuts key, upper right for Back/Main Menu with hold down, lower left for up/prev/rewind, and lower right for down/next/fast forward.  Also, holding down the middle button gets you into Volume change so you don't even need to push dedicated volume up/down buttons.  Another fantastic feature is a support of headphones with in-line remote to Play/Pause and double/triple click to skip tracks - a fantastic feature to remotely control X3 II (the same as X1) hidden in your pocket or while exercising.

 

So, back to the GUI and menu selection.  Starting with Now Playing you will see a list with all of your songs, displayed by what appears just a file name.  Category sorts songs in a more organized sub-categories of All Songs, Albums, Artists, Genres, Favorites (which you can tag individually), and Playlists.  Browse Files gets you to select MicoSD card folder or OTG folder (confirmed to be working like a charm, reading files from usb otg microSD card reader and usb otg thumbstick).  Also, I like a folder view since I have albums in separate folders while misc songs are below it in a separate list.  Moving on to Play Setting, you get a nearly identical to X1 menu selection with Play Mode (with different repeat and playback mode options), Resume Mode, Gapless Playback, Max Volume and Default Volume, Fixed Volume, Gain (L/H), 10-band EQ with a number of quality presets and custom setting option, Balance (L/R), and Play Through Folders option.  The last Main Menu selection is System Setting, also with a similar selection of choices like you can find in X1 and X5.  Those include Media Library Update (Manual/Auto), Key-lock setting (key function setting when screen is off), Screen timeout, Brightness setting, Idle poweroff, Idle poweroff time, Sleep mode, Sleep timer, Multifunctional output (Line Out vs Coax Out), USB mode (storage vs DAC), Theme selection (among 6 color choices), Support in-line headphone control (enable/disable), File Name display (by file name or title), About X3 (with info about microSD card capacity, number of songs, and firmware version, as well as full Quick Start Guide), Language selection, Storage formatting (helps to format Fat32), and Factory reset.

 

Graphic User Interface (GUI).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I personally think that ergonomics of hardware interface and layout of GUI is very important in DAP design.  You can have the best sounding DAP in the world, but if its operation is awkward and uncomfortable - it will take away from the enjoyment of the product.  At the same time, sound performance is still very important.  When I reviewed X1 and compared it to X5, I was impressed with a scaled down design for under $100, and always commented “for the price, it sounds great” where the sound improvement came when paired up with an external amp.  But there was always a big gap with a clear separation in sound quality and features/functionality between X1 and X5.  With introduction of X3 II, FiiO is bringing this gap closer.

 

X1/X3/X5

 

 

 

 

First of all, starting with fundamentals, FiiO used a better DAC and amplification stage similar to X5.  Before anybody calls me a hypocrite considering I always preach about treating a DAP like a black box where I don’t care about its chipset, I’m only bringing this up for a relative comparison of improvement and considering I have other DAPs that use the same Cirrus Logic CS4398 DAC.  As a matter of fact, Hidizs AP100 uses the same DAC and it was an interesting comparison to find X3 II vs AP100 having a similar sound sig tonality where X3 sound was a little tighter and punchier while AP100 was a little more airy and wider and slightly more transparent, perhaps due to a different amplifier section.  As a step up to utilize quality of this new DAC, X3 II also added USB DAC functionality similar to X5, where you have a simple plug’n’play connection to your laptop/PC to turn X3 II into an external audio card.  As a bonus, due to a native DSD support/decoding, you can play high res DSD files after you install corresponding drivers and plug for your audio player (Windows).

 

And speaking of audio formats, X3 II is a true hi-res DAP supporting everything under the sun, from lossy compression MP3, AAC, WMA, OGG to lossless formats of DSD (DSD64 and DSD128), APE, FLAC, WAV, WMA, and Apple up to 192kHz/24bit.  I was especially impressed with native handling of DSD files decoded in hardware, something X5 supports through internal conversion to PCM only.  But ironically, you do need a considerable amount of space for DSD files where X3 II only supports a single 128GB microSD card, while X5 supports 2 cards.  Still, not a show stopper considering X3 II was upgraded with USB OTG support where you can attach external drive to expand your storage capacity – very convenient using some of the latest usb otg mini thumb drivers or usb otg microSD card readers.

 

USB DAC and USB OTG.

 

 

 

 

So how does it actually sound?  Figuring out sound signature of DAP is a bit tricky since you’re judging it through a sound signature of headphones, and as a result need to reference the sound to other sources or be very intimately familiar with a sound sig of your headphones from a flat source.  To my ears X3 II has a full body balanced sound with a touch of warmth and a bit of enhancement toward the low end.  The sound is detailed and smooth, background is relatively black, and soundstage is above average.  I don’t have any high impedance cans or super sensitive IEMs, but I can reassure you that level of hiss with some of the sensitive IEMs in my collection was on the same level as X5.  In comparison to X3 II, X1 is warmer and darker and bassier, clear but not with the same level of detail retrieval, and with a sound being a bit more congested and not as wide.  Looking at X5, in comparison it’s thinner and brighter, more revealing and open/airy, and with a wider soundstage. 

 

Some might consider X3 II sound to fit right in the middle of X1 and X5 sound sigs.  I personally do consider X3 II to be a noticeable improvement over X1, but with X5 it almost felt like a sidegrade, though still being a notch below.  It is not on the same revealing level as X5, but at the same time I found it to have a much better synergy with some of my brighter/analytical headphones to smooth out the harsh top.  As an opposite, my darker/bassier headphones sound better with X5 to “clean up” a sound.  So for example, A83 was a better pair up with X3 II while UM Pro 50 was a better match for X5.  But you are not limited to being tied up to HO output, and with added flexibility of LO, you always have an option to try different external amps.  For the purpose of this test, I used E11k and E12A amps, keeping it all in FiiO family!  Here are some of the observations I found comparing X3 II against X1 and X5 with different combinations of amps.  To keep the write up cleaner, I will refer to X3 II as “X3”, and obviously I’m referring to HO output of DAP when used without an external amp.  Also, testing was done using ATH-MSR7 headphones.

 

X3 vs X3+E11k - I prefer HO of X3 vs X3+E11k since E11k affects soundstage a bit and makes sound a little bit darker.

 

X3 vs X3+E12A - adding E12A improves soundstage a bit, makes sound wider, slightly better retrieval of details, a little better separation/layering, definitely an improvement.

 

X3 vs X1+E11k - X1/E11k combo is brighter and more transparent in comparison to X1 by itself, but still sound is a little warmer and with more sub-bass rumble comparing to X3.  The tonality of X1 gets cleaned up, but its warm characteristics is still amplified.  In comparison, X3 still sounds more neutral, transparent, and more detailed, not by a huge margin, but noticeable enough.

 

X3 vs X1+E12A - X1/E12A combo takes it to a whole new level with improved detailed sound, closer to a neutral level with just a little bit of low end boost inherited from original X1 sig.  With an exception of that "bass boost", X1+E12A pair up closed a gap with X3, bringing it almost to the same level.

 

X5 vs X3+E12A - X5 sound is more neutral and transparent in comparison to X3/E12A, also it's a little thinner with less body, while X3/E12A is a touch warmer, with a faster mid-bass attack, and overall having a more energetic sound.

 

 

 

 

While test and comparison between X1/X3/X5 and different amp combinations is valuable, my next test round was using three different pairs of IEMs directly from HO of X1/X3/X5 to compare the sound.  For this test I choose to use Fidue A83 3-way hybrid since it has a great low end reproduction and bright top end, UM Pro 50 5-way BA with silver litz cable since it’s my darkest signature IEMs with a smooth sound and excellent bass, and Havi B3 Pro 1 which is neutral warm dual-driver known to be power hungry.

 

A83 testing (stock silver/plated cable).

 

X1: warm and smooth sound, not as much low-end definition, upper mids/treble are less revealing, soundstage is just average.

X3: brighter sound with better layering/separation, punchier bass with more details, more clarity and details in mids/treble which still remains smooth, wider staging.

X5: more revealing, vivid/open/airy sound, punchy detailed bass, upper mids/treble are more analytical/revealing, pushing it to a borderline harsh.  Treble is crispier, with a little better extension. Soundstage is a bit more 3D.

 

UM Pro 50 (w/Pure Silver Whiplash Litz cable).

 

X1: warm dull sound, bass is too rounded (slow attack), lower mids are a bit thick, upper mids are too warm and overly smooth, treble doesn't sound too extended.  Soundstage is narrow.

X3: still warm sound, but more detailed.  More definition and punch in the bass, better separation with lower mids, upper mids brighter and clearer.  Better treble extension, but not as much sparkle, still smooth.  Soundstage has more depth.

X5: still warm sound but improved transparency and retrieval of details.  Bass punch is slightly improved, separation with lower mids is still good, upper mids are still clear and brighter, treble has more sparkle and improved extension.  Soundstage is wider and deeper.

 

B3 Pro 1 (v# signifies volume where X1 doesn’t have Gain selection, so volume dial is lower).

 

X1: (v55) warm and bassy, bass is textured and with a slower attack, good separate from lower mids, clear upper mids, nice smooth treble with a good extension, soundstage has an average width.

X3: (v77) warm and bassy, bass has more crunch and a faster punch, more transparency and better layering and separation, mids are more detailed and brighter, treble has a better extension and more crunch.  Soundstage is wider.

X5: (v75) more neutral with enhanced bass, bass has a deeper texture and more details, better separation from lower mids.  Mids are smooth and detailed, not too bright.  Treble is brighter and has more extension.  Soundstage is open, and with more width and depth.

 

 

 

Overall, I think X3 II was definitely a big surprise for me.  I know that FiiOs product line is partitioned with X1<X3<X5<X7 in order of design and sound improvement, and I was expecting X3 II to fit right in the middle between X1 and X5, but in reality found it to be closer to X5.  With some bright/revealing headphones I felt a synergy with X3 II to be even better than with X5.  Without a single doubt in my mind, I would say that X3 II is easily worth a double of X1 pricing due to an additional improvements of a new DAC and amp section, USB DAC support, native DSD playback, dedicated LO port, USB OTG support, 10 band EQ (vs 7 band in X1), selectable L/H gain, and very useful Deep Sleep mode.  X1 is still a great DAP if you are on a budget of $100 or planning to pair it up with a good external portable amp.  But in my honest opinion if you are deciding between X1 and X3 II or thinking about upgrading X1, I would strongly recommend looking into X3 II.  Sure, X5 is another step up, but if you are looking for a truly portable high quality DAP with an innovative scroll wheel control, great battery life, support of every audio file format under the sun (including native DSD decoding), possibility to use it as USB DAC, and being able to control it with in-line remote of your headphones – X3 II will be hard to beat in $200 price range.

Posted

Pros: Sound quality, really small, excellent build quality, stable software, price, performance

Cons: Impossible to read display in sunlight,

Fiio 3X Second Generation Review

 

Lots of other reviewers have talked about the technical aspects of the Fiio X3 Second Generation so I am going to limit my review to what I heard and felt. This is a subjective review.

 

In Toastmasters, where I’ve been a member for over 20 years, we have a saying about doing evaluations. It goes like this: Evaluate the speech you heard and not the one you would have liked to have heard.

 

So I’m applying the same principle to my review of the Fiio X3 Second Generation (3X) which I want to thank Joe Bloggs, a Fiio online customer representative, for inviting me to the 3X tour of Canada.

 

I am a retired professional photographer, community newspaper and national magazine editor (mainly trades to do with the cabling and electrical business in Canada) and I’m an active Amateur Radio operator so I’ve had headphones on my ears most of my life.

 

Recently I got into audio in a big way after going to my local headphone shop here in Toronto to buy a $75 Fiio E-10 K DAC and came back with a Fostex HP-A8C DAC and a set of Audeze LCD-X headphones. Talk about up selling. I went back a week later and got the Fiio DAC anyway.

 

I’ve Got A Lot of Fiios

 

I started a few years ago with a Fiio E11 which I plugged into my IPad so I could get better audio when watching NetFlicks. Cheap and cheerful the E11 really added a whole new dimension to my video viewing enjoyment.

 

Then I got a Fiio E09K amplifier and accompanying Fiio E17 Aspen DAC/Headphone amplifier for my upstairs music room so I had some idea of what to expect from Fiio when it came to the X3.

 

The Review

 

So thanks to the last guy on the tour who charged the battery I was immediately ready to start my review. 

 

Within two minutes the X3 had passed the “no manual” test and I was hearing music after inserting my micro SD card from my Astell and Kern AK-100 II. (More about this later.)

 

What I Saw

 

First the X3 is much smaller than I expected at 9.5 cm long, 5.5 cm across and 1.5 cm wide. (My AK-100 II is 11 X 5.5 X 1.5) and the X3 weighs 135 gms (compared to 170 gms for the A&K). 

 

The Fiio case is made of lightweight aluminum with rounded corners and all the controls pretty much flush with the case. The X3 uses a main rubberized wheel with four push buttons on the front surface to do the navigation. Now some people like wheels and some don’t and it comes down to personal taste. I found the wheel just fine and I liked the navigation method and the menu system which comes up on the LCD screen. It’s a good system in my opinion. 

 

One of the things I really like about the X3 menu system is it goes asleep really quickly and if you need to reawaken it for any reason it’s back with a single tap of the top button of three on the side of the unit. The other two buttons are volume up and down.

 

However, when in sleep mode, the volume up and down buttons turn into next song or last song buttons with the middle button moving you forward into your playlist and the bottom button moving you back. Very cool and well-thought out feature.

 

The X3 does have a tiny LED indicator light on the front panel that runs blue if all is well and turns red under charge and green when the battery is full charged up. Very cool again.

 

A full charge is supposed to take three hours and give around 11 hours of playing time. I didn’t check this out but it would seem about right.

 

My first pleasant surprise after pushing the on button was the super fast loading time for the software. The X3 is ready to go in just over five seconds. (The A&K takes 30 long, long seconds!) Love it. This is the way all software should load - fast.

 

Now I haven’t yet progressed to the point I’ve got a ton of music files in a variety of lossless and lossy file formats (let alone understand it all) but the X3 literature says it supports DSD, DSD64, DSD128 (.iso & .dst and .dff); APE; FLAC; WAV; WMA Lossless; Apple Lossless; MP2; MP3; AAC; ALAC; WMA and OGG. I’ll take Fiio at its word on this. Other reviewers cover this technical stuff way better than I can.

 

What I Heard

 

So I’ve got my mico-SD card out of my A&K and into the X3 and I turned the unit on and there were all 1500 tunes. Very cool. Never had the X3 not read the card first time and I can't say that about the A&K!

 

Now I had the chance to run the same songs on the X3 from the internal memory card and from the AK-100 II from its streaming function from my ITunes library at the same 44.1kHz/16bit. I could also switch headphones back and forth to compare what was happening.

 

So we’re at the place where I’ve fallen into the trap of evaluating the speech I would have liked to have heard as opposed to the speech I did hear. And for Fiio, it’s not necessary bad news.

 

Here’s an analogy: I own a 2003 Toyota Celica with 137,000 kms on it. I love this car. It’s a fun car to drive. For me (at 66) it never gets old and I hope to keep it on the road for another couple of years at least.

 

And then there’s the guy in my small town who drives a Ferrari. It’s a red Ferrari. I can recognize it by the sound it makes from several blocks away. I would love to own a Ferrari but not only can I not afford a Ferrari, I couldn’t afford the insurance for a Ferrari. And thus I don’t own a Ferrari whether it’s red or any other colour.

 

Same principle applies here so after a day of switching headphones and DAPs back and forth I decided today to run the X3 all on its own and let it speak for itself.

 

Remember I’m retired so in the last two days I’ve got around 10+ solid hours of listen in so far and six of them were with the X3 into mainly Shure 535s. The X3 plays differently with different headphones. My elderly Sennheiser 439s (modded) and much maligned 590s sound muddy and boring as do a set of $60 Skull Candy in-ears.

 

The Momentums (on-ears and on sale here in Canada for $139) sound great as do my super cheap $36 T-Peos D-202Ns and Grado 60s.

 

After six hours of continuous music ranging from Bob Marley to Lucinda Williams to The Doors to Ani DiFranco to Beth Orton to Lyle Lovett to the Buena Vista Social Club with a smattering of opera singer Cecilia Bartoli I can say the X3 is a wonderful sounding DAP especially when you consider the estimate selling price of $199.

 

Now are they a contender compared to the Astell and Kern AK-100 II. Ah...no. The AK-100 II with the Shure 535s (often with a Cypher Labs Picollo amp in the mix) provide the best portable music experience I’ve ever had ...period. It’s wonderful and when I compare the X3 to the experience, the X3 comes in second.  The A&K has a lot of other features as well including onboard memory and the ability to accept wireless streaming files from the MacBook Pro plus Tidal (someday soon I hope) but those are only features and for $900 you should get something added.

 

This is sort of like my Celica vs the Ferrari story.

 

So today I thought I’d give the X3 a chance to stand on its own and I plugged in the Shure 535s and put my music playlist on random and let it run and run. My ears never tired of the experience which is not something I can say about six hours with the Audezes and the Fostex DAC which can be intense.

 

I did run into one issue which since I can’t determine the cause and it went away doesn’t concern me. When I first tried the X3 with the Shure 535s I could hear a slightly click - click sound for the first few seconds after plugging in the very sensitive in-ear 535s and turning on the X3. This click sound happened a couple of times and then disappear for good. The Shure 535s have never clicked before or after and I’m don’t know what happened here but it did go away and wasn’t present with any of the other many headphones I tried on the X3.

 

So I went back to swapping out headphones and the experience was the same for the Momentums, the Grados and even the super-cheap T-Peos. Now I’m not a fan of equalization but the  X3 has a lovely 10-band equalizer with 10 presets which might be very popular with some folks who own one set of headphones. Nice touch. 

 

The headphones I used for this review are the typical types of headphones that people are going to use with the X3 and Fiio is going to sell a couple of big boatloads of X3s to people who want a better listening experience with a much larger variety of file formats and memory than smartphones can manage.

 

Now for those who are adventuresome, the X3 can also be used as a DAC. 

 

I compared it to my Fiio E-10 K which is my go-to DAC in my office attached to my MacBook Pro where I stream TIDAL and either listen it to through my office headphones or stream it to my living room (Apple Airplay into Fostex HPA8C and Audezes) or to my tiny music room (Airplay into Fiio E09K and Fiio E-17 Aspen and various headphones) and the X3 was terrific.

 

What I Felt

 

So would I buy one for myself? Yup especially if I didn’t have the A&K unit. Would I recommend it to a friend? Absolutely and I recommend it here to you. 

 

In the world of high-end audio $200 is a rounding error when it comes to what we can spend to setup our systems. So this could be the best $200 you spend to listen to your music. Add on snappy headphones like the Grado 60s or the T-Peos or Momentums and you’re going to be very very happy.

 

Just don’t go out and test drive a Ferrari. You’ve been warned!

 

Day Three

 

I got up this morning to the revelation that not once during a whole day of listening to the X3 did I even consider adding an external amplifier. I almost always use my A&K with a Cypher Labs Picollo external amp. This combo is spooky good into the Shures.

 

For the most part the A&K sounds great without it but add the Picollo and my foot is tapping away keeping the beat and it doesn’t much matter which set of headphones I’m using I get the same effect. However it is more noticeable when I’m using the Sennheisers than any of the other headphones as they need more drive and sound flat without the Picollo.

 

Adding the Picollo is easy by plugging in a jumper from the amp to the X3’s Line/Coax Out plug and the 535s are rocking. I pause the music and there’s absolute silence out of Picollo even with the volume at maximum.

 

So that works and the X3 automatically goes into a Line Out mode (if that's what is selected in menu) with the Picollo plugged in so let’s try again without the Picollo. I’m listening to Aimee Mann’s Lost In Space and my foot is tapping again. This is very good audio. Amazing with or without the amp.

 

Okay enough with this third party amplifier. Let’s see what the X3 makes of a Fiio E11 with the 535s.

 

First there’s an expectable, minimal amplifier hiss that the 535s can hear near the noise floor from the E-11 but the music keeps on keeping on. I am really enjoying the X3 so let’s swap out the 535s for the Sennheiser Momentums and it’s time for a little more Bob Marley. The Momentums are dead quiet. They don’t hear any hiss so let’s hit play and…

 

Oh yah mon this is heaven: Is This Love That I’m Feeling? Yes Bob it is - it is.

 

Let’s take the E11 out and I can tell the bass notes are diminished a little. If I wasn’t swapping back and forth I wouldn’t notice the difference but the E11 especially with the three-position EQ button makes the X3 just rock when it comes to Bob Marley. I tried different settings with the X3 built-in equalizer but there was nothing in the presets that sounded better than no equalization. I could have done a custom setting but the X3 didn’t need it so why bother?

 

A quick swapping of the E-11 back to the Picollo and surprise, surprise I preferred the pairing of the Fiio X3 and the Fiio E-11. I’m not sure why but the E-11 EQ just seems a little more gritty (another technical term) compared to the very smooth sounds of the Picollo and I like gritty.

 

Goodness I hope there’s some audio engineer out there wisely nodding his head in agreement and I’m not just sitting here going slowly senile listening to Bob tell me it’s all going to be alright.

 

This is an outstanding experience with or without an external amp. The X3 is also very very tolerant of getting plugs pulled and pushed without any hysterics that require rebooting. This would appear to be one stable operating system. 

 

Somebody should get a raise for this!

 

I was thinking of wrapping up this audition and going back to my regular setup but this is so much fun I’m running the X3 into the Momentums for at least another day. And really if you just add a little volume to drive the Momentums there’s no need for an external amp. Sure an external amp will change the sound but not so much as you’d notice after 30 seconds of listening. Some difficult to drive headphones might appreciate the amplification but there’s nothing I own (aside from the Sennheisers) that needs it when it comes to the X3.

 

But all is not good. Huston we’ve had a problem here. I took the X3 outside in the bright sunlight and the screen becomes unreadable. It’s so unreadable in sunlight that even holding a cap over the X3 to shade it doesn’t help. It’s the type of LCD display that’s the issue as my IPhone, IPad and Kindle are readable in bright sunlight. 

 

Don’t think you’d want to try searching for a tune while you’re at the beach with this display. The Astell and Kern AK-100 II is somewhat better but still pretty hard to read in full sunlight but is readable with some shade from a baseball cap. The X3 is not.

 

Day 4

 

So my previous experience swapping out the X3 with the AK-100 II reaffirmed my original decision to go buy an insanely expensive DAP (as opposed to the AK-240 which is a very insanely expensive DAP) as the AK does so much more and does sound better (remember the foot tapping test).

 

Having said that I do realize there is a $700 difference in price so I thought of of another way of straightening out the playing field. I took the entire day listening to the X3 for an hour or so and then switching over to the AK-100 II for another hour or so. 

 

I swapped out headphones starting with the Sennheiser Momentums on-ears and then to the Shure 535s and then to the T-Peo D-202Ns.

 

Strangely enough, just for casual listening and walking around the house and the neighbourhood I preferred the X3!

 

Here’s why: First the published dimensions don’t give you an adequate sense of just how much smaller the X3 is to the AK-100. I can carry the X3 in a shirt or pants pocket without any issue. There are no sharp edges to catch on clothing and unlike the AK-100 no wheels or other controls protruding from the case.

 

The X3 is also a lot lighter. You can forget you’re carrying it around.

 

Sound-wise each unit sounded superb…about 10 minutes into each listening session. In other words, if you don’t have a Ferrari in the driveway, the Celica seems pretty good. 

 

It’s the same with the audio from the X3 compared to the AK-100. Give your ears a few minutes to adjust and compensate for the slightly different sound reproduction, then the music itself sounds very good on either machine.

 

For this test I put my 1500 song playlist on random run and there wasn’t anything from folk to rock and roll with an occasional opera soprano thrown in that didn’t sound very good on either unit.

 

So if you’re in the market for a really decent sounding DAP and you’re not willing to spend your entire old-age pension cheque then the X3 will thrill you and at my age I don’t get thrilled nearly enough anymore. 

 

Thanks X3 and Fiio.

 

 

 

 

Posted

Pros: Features, settings, build, value, price,

Cons: Touchy scroll wheel for some. Slight lack of detail retrieval

First of all, I'd like to thank FiiO for sending me this sample to review as part of the Australian / NZ tour.

 

 

FiiO is an ever expanding Chinese company no stranger to the portable audio world - with the likes of their early amps such as FiiO E5, E11 and other early products. Over passing months they've completely expanded busting out into the portable audio player market and doing so at great speed. Their ever increasing performance ratio doesn't seem to stop and that's exactly what you'll find today in FiiO X3II. The new player from FiiO brings a pocket size unit packed at the absolute seams with features, some of which usually only found in more expensive players from other companies.

 

 

From USB OTG storage, DSD Playback, 24BIT support, true line out, USB DAC Mode, huge audio format support, X3II answers almost everyone's expectations.

 

 

 

 

 

Let's take a look at the players specs and features.

 

 

SPECIFICATIONS:
Model/Number X3(X3 2nd gen)
Color Titanium
Dimensions 96.7 mm×57.7 mm×16.1 mm
Weight 135 g
Display Screen 2.0" TFT screen, 320x240 pixels
Line Out Standard 3.5mm Port (Shared line out / S/PDIF coaxial out)
Digital Out (Coaxial) Standard 3.5mm Port (Shared line out / S/PDIF coaxial out)
Usb Dac Supporting up to 24bit / 192kHz and DSD (driver installation required)
Headphone Port Standard 3.5mm Headphone Port
Drive Ability 16~150 O
Volume Control 120 steps digital potentiometer
Equalizer 10-band equalizer (±6dB)
Treble N/A
Bass N/A
Balance 5 dB
Gain 2.6dB(GAIN=L)
8.6dB(GAIN=H)
Thd+N <0.001% (1 kHz)
Frequency Response 20 Hz~20 kHz
Crosstalk >102 dB (10 KO/1 kHz)
Snr ≥114 dB (A-weight)
Dynamic Range ≥101 dB
Line Output Level 1.45 Vrms (10 KO/1 kHz)
Output Power 1 >224 mW (16 O/THD+N<1%)
Output Power 2 >200 mW (32 O/THD+N<1%)
Output Power 3 >24 mW (300 O/THD+N<1%)
Frequency Response 20 Hz~20 kHz
Snr ≥113 dB (A-weighted)
Output Impedance <0.2 O(32Ω)
Crosstalk >74 dB (1 kHz)
Thd+N <0.001% (1 kHz)
Max Output Voltage >7.2 Vp-p
Max Output Current >75 mA (For reference)
Power DC5V 2A recommended
Charge Display Red light indicates , green light turns on after fully charged
Battery Display Yes (Accurate battery % readings))
Battery Capacity 2600 mAh
Battery Life >11 h (32Ω; normal volume with display off )
Charging Time <3 h (DC5V 2A)
Lossless: DSD: DSD64, DSD128 (.iso&.dsf & .dff);
APE(Fast): 192 kHz/24 bit;
APE(Normal): 96 kHz/24 bit;
APE (High): 96 kHz/24 bit;
FLAC: 192 kHz/24 bit;
WAV: 192 kHz/24 bit;
WMA Lossless: 96 kHz/24 bit;
Apple Lossless: 192 kHz/24 bit;
Lossy Compression: MP2、MP3、AAC、ALAC、WMA、OGG…

 

 

 

Like I said, packed to the brim with usable features - for the going price of around $240 AUD that's one big shoe filled for anyone seeking value for money. While I'll only ever use 16/44 FLAC files with X3II I know its a good thing for consumers and sale side of things, especially with the increasing popularity of hi-res 24bit files. The more features you add, the further you reach out to the consumer, it seems FiiO are well aware of that. But its more than this. FiiO take pride in supplying content for money, they enjoy satisfaction making (you) the buyer comfortable with your purchase.

 

 

 

It doesn't stop there though, let's take a look at the accessories included!

 

 

x3 Decal Stickers

USB Charge / Data Cable.

Digital Out Cable

Silicon Case / Cover

x2 Spare Screen Protectors (one also installed on arrival)

Documentation 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A quick look around the player.

 

 

 

 

On the left-hand side you have your power button, volume up, volume down.

 

 

 

 

On the lower right your micro sd card slot.

 

 

 

 

 

 

At the bottom your micro USB charge / data port - just above that (quite small) the round power indication light.

 

The light while lluuminate blue when power is on and red whilst charging.

 

 

 

Moving up to the very top your headphone out and beside that your line out / coax out. 

 

(there is a setting to flick between line out /coax out in the X3II settings)

 

 

 

Build Quality.

 

As shown in the pictures above X3II is no slouch when it comes to build, the metal casing feels quite solid, in person giving the resemblance of something more expensive.The sides are smooth, seamless and even the backplate has a clear finish which gives the appearance of glass. I give strong points to the build quality on a unit at this price. It really feels nice in the hand, you feel like holding something worth what you paid. Not always found in the Chinese market.

 

 

 

 

User settings.

 

One thing I've been overly impressed with on both FiiO X1 and X3II is the amount of settings offered even making iBasso players look average. Inside X3II's user-interface is an overabundance of settings, some even making an iPod look plain. From themes to adjustable max volume restriction X3II seems to have every base covered.

 

 

 

System Settings

 

Update Media Library (switch between manual / auto)

Key-Lock Settings (several options)

Screen timeout

Brightness

Idle Power Off (on / off)

Idle Power Off time

Sleep (on / off)

Sleep Timer (duration)

Multifunctional outputs (switches between line out and coax)

USB mode (switch between DAC or Storage)

Themes (several to choose from)

Support in-line volume control (on / off)

File name display (Title, Filename)

About X3 (shows firmware version, storage space)

 

 

Play Settings

 

Resume mode (on / off)

Gapless playback (on / off)

Max Volume (set limit)

Default Volume (set to remember your last position on start-up)

Fixed Volume Setting

Gain (low / high)

Equalizer (several presets and custom EQ)

Balance (left / right)

Play Through Folders

 

 

Phew, as I said, I don't know how FiiO thought of them all let alone implement them to work seamlessly. There's enough features there to play your own arcade game if put to good use. While I won't ever use them all its about flexibility of having them. Each person is different as is their wants and needs.

 

 

User interface.

 

Because I browse by folder only X3II makes life very easy. I simply click on "browse folders" enter into my micro sd card and away I go. All my music is there showing the folder title. There are options for those who use Artist, Album, Genre, Favourites, Playlists, but none of this ever gets used by myself. I look at X3II like any other player, I select an album from the folder directory and usually let it play through.

 

Which brings us to the scroll wheel. Many people seem mildly underwhelmed with FiiO scroll wheel implementation. They say it doesn't function accurately or misses their selection. While I can agree to some extent its not perfect, I have used far worse in my time, and for most parts X3II gets me where I need to without much hassle. And if scrolling ever becomes tedious or you feel hindered the bottom left / right (change track buttons) also work for scrolling whenever in a menu screen. One thing I would like to see in the future is FiiO adapt into the touch screen interfaces, as I must admit its one area I feel iBasso offers ease of use in comparison.

 

 

Sound Quality

 

 

Gear used: Fidue A83, Grado SR325e, Aurisonics ASG-2, Etymotic ER4S.

 

Files: 16/44 FLAC

 

 

 

 

The sound, a place where we start to wander off the strong road we'd been heading down. To get things out of the way I do feel X3II is a very competent player, its strong technically, areas like instrument separation and overall coherency are quite sophisticated for the money. Its especially skilled at keeping everything in sync without losing much cohesiveness. Each instrument separates well defined as does each bass note, the treble maybe a little rolled off or absence (a safe road?). I have a lot to say about how technically sophisticated this player is for $240 AUD, every time I listen for these aspects I've felt completely impressed, even next to iBasso DX50 which does not hold the same posture, especially in separation.

 

Another area is the refinement and overall resolution offered by X3II is quite strong, you always notice great presence and stance of the music along with a strong sense of musicality, the type that gets your foot tapping without noticing and great for casual listening. But where we start to leave one another is, I find X3II to lack a little overall vibrance around the mid-range and its ability to reveal detail isn't what I find in an iBaso DX50. Don't get me wrong here, the sound of X3II is very good, especially where I mentioned, but I always sense a little too much warmth from the presentation or soft veil which restricts those final levels of clarity or bite in the presentation.

 

Whilst this can have a huge upside of lessening listening fatigue for long sessions it always leaves me a little underwhelmed, at least compared to my DX50 unit. Then I think what the hell and listen to how strong X3II is technically and those feeling go away. It isn't a complete deal breaker what I hear in X3 detail retrieval, but a little more next time would be welcome please, or at least a lift in the tonality. Soundstage is adequate in width, though nothing overly excessive. I never feel closed in however and your headphone plays a major role.

 

 

Line out

 

When using the line out I'm able to bypass X3II's internal amp section and it does sound that little bit cleaner. I hear on the forums many people are having great results using X3II with their external amps, so if adding an amp for more power, flavouring  the sound is your thing you'll be mighty impressed overall. Personally, I think X3II headphone out will suit brighter sounding headphones, take Grado for example, this will show great results. The beauty of having line out is you can increase power output and add some flavour!

 

 

Conclusion.

 

I think what X3II has, offers, shows the audio world is marvelous, it packs so many features, settings, everything you would want from a player in 2015, the most features I've seen from any player since my time in audio at under the $300 mark. The build quality and overall package is just great and you will get above what you pay for. And I think for the majority out there X3II will serve up a competitive sound level that can show any mainstream player a thing or two. Its just for those of us who are seeking a little more bite or vibrance, maybe even cooler/brighter preferences may be a little under the rain with the sound X3II puts out. I personally am one of those people.

 

Will this stop me enjoying X3II? Hell no, because I can hear the potential X3II has technically, I can admire the way it makes my foot tap without trying. X3II will be used as my main on the go player where critical listening isn't of great importance. and if I ever want to get critical I can bypass the warmish amp section using line out.

 

Thanks again FiiO for showing the audio world what you can do!

 

~H20

Posted

Pros: Clean, airy sound, lovely soundstage, built quality, battery life.

Cons: No optical out, no internal memory anymore

REVIEW:

 

Equipment used:

Headphones: HD650, AH-D600, LCD2, T90, HA-FX850, UE900s, Momentum, ATH-M50x, Ostry KC06A, RE-400

Firmware: 1.0

 

Music used:

From Royskopp to Amber Rubarth, Diana Krall to Apoptygma Berzerk, Tom Jones to Sphongle, Yello to Camouflage, mostly FLACs 24/96 or 16/44.1 - some mp3 320kbps, some AAC 256kbps

Depending on headphone high or low gain - no EQ

 

Disclaimer: I received the Fiio X3II review unit from www.samma3a.com the local distributor of Fiio products. I have to return the unit, so there is no financial interest. I am not affiliated with Fiio or Samma3a.com Though I really highly appreciate what these guys are doing for the audiophiles in the region!! Thank you so much for letting me test and review this player. I had so much fun doing it!!

 

When I review DAPs I tend to use an input switcher and play the same song on both players, volume matched by ear and switch back and forth. Then I do some extensive listening with the unit and different headphones.

TL;DR

Pros

Cons

Clean, airy sound, way improved soundstage from X3

More details in every frequency band

Scroll wheel way better than X5

Great build quality

Drives high impedance headphones quite well

VERY close in performance to the X5

Works as external DAC on Mac & PC

No optical out

Silicon sleeve is a dust/lint magnet

No more internal memory

 

Buy it - you won’t get anything better for this price.

Now, the longer version:

Packaging & Accessories

In short it consists of USB charging/data cable, 3.5mm to RCA COAX digital out cable, one spare screen protector in the box, one already fitted on device, pattern stickers (??) in three different designs, warranty card and quick start guide. It also comes already packed into a silicon sleeve/case that is much better than the one from the X3 1st gen.

 

      

 

 

        

 

 

 

Technical Highlights

DAC Chip: CS4398, Amp: OPA1642+LMH6643

Ouput: 224mW into 16 Ohm, 200mW into 32 Ohm, 24mW into 300 Ohm

Output impedance: 0.2

Headphone out, Digital (COAX) out (switchable to line out), 2inch 320x240 pixel colour display, 1 mSD card slot for up to 128GB cards.

 

Size comparisons & Input switcher

      

 

       

 

AK100Mk2, X3II, Gloveaudio A1, X5 (with Cayin C5 and stacking kit HS6)

 

User Interface and Build Quality

As it has been mentioned before, I keep this part short as well. THe build quality is very good, solid, nothing squeeks, buttons and ports have no play and feel solid. The scroll wheel is much improved over the scroll wheel of the X5, it seems to have less feel and locks in you movements more reliably, however sometimes a “click” or turn is ignored.

 

The case really appeals to me and it’s a device that you will enjoy to hold and handle. It loses quite some appeal when put in the silicon protection case. It’s a shame that you wont’ see much of this nice device when using that case.

 

The User Interface is already known from the X5 and X1 and has slight variations to it. Overall it’s pretty straight forward and easy to master once you get the hang of it.

 

What I particularly like about Fiio players is that you have still dedicated buttons for many functions. You have volume buttons, play/pause/select and a FFWD, RWD (long press) buttons that skip forward and backward with a short press. Makes blind use at night or in the pocket easier.

 

I tested the device with Firmware 1.0 which will be the release Firmware - it was released on the 2nd day of my review and I didn’t revisit the sound tests I made with FW 0.22.

 

Overall the UI has only a few little quirks and is pretty well thought through.

 

The Deep Sleep mode is a very helpful feature and the battery seems to go on forever!

 

Sound Quality Comparisons

General

I was genuinely impressed how well the X3II drives my HD650, T90 high impedance headphones. Not bad at all for such a small DAP. NAtive DSD support in this price range is pretty crazy as well. For the comparisons below I used the Fiio HS2 Headphone Output switcher. I pitched the X3II against a single competitor every time.

Compared to X3 1st gen (from memory)

Since I sold the X3 a few month back this comparison is of course to be taken with a huge grain of salt.

 

Main differences:

  • larger soundstage

  • mids and highs crisper

  • more detailed across the frequency range

Compared to iBasso DX50

This was a difficult one. I have sold my X3 and kept the DX50 since for me the sound quality and usability was better with the DX50. Until now. Fiio has now reached and in some areas surpassed the DX50. There is a tad more bass impact with the X3II, in the mids and treble both are quite similar and the soundstage is now (FW 1.8 on DX50) pretty similar too.

 

Both players offer some great value for money, overall the X3II now feels like the more modern and advanced player - even though the DX50 has a touch screen.And it also sounds a tad better in everything compared to the DX50 to my ears, the same way the original X3 sounded a tad inferior in everything before...tables have turned.

 

 

Compared to AK100Mk2

The AK100Mk2 is my goto player when I don’t want any bulk. It runs Firmware 2.41 and is the blue special edition that was released exclusively in Japan December 2014. I love this little beauty. However, at a price around $420 depending on the exchange rate, it has only slight advantages in sound quality over the X3II - the X3II shows what’s possible for $199.

 

The AK100mk2 had the same amount of details but slammed the bass a bit harder and more precise, it also had a slight advantage in the soundstage.

 

 

Compared to AK100 & Gloveaudio A1

The Gloveaudio basically degrades the AK100 to a pure transport, it uses it’s own DAC and balanced amp. Unsurprisingly this combo is a level above the X3II - bass impact, layering and detail is way better, it’s more musical, has better grip on the headphones and controls them somewhat with ease, where the X3II was doing a good job but reaching it’s potential. Plus the background is dark dark dark, black hole dark. Lots of clean power. A brilliant device. CEntrance - this is amazing!!

 

 

Compared to Fiio X5

This was surprising. It seems that the design brief for the technical team was: Make the new X3II sound like the X5 for half the money. And they succeeded mostly.

 

I felt the X3II to have a slightly larger soundstage (!!) and shockingly similar in overall sound quality and signature. The X5 still has the upper hand in power handling and drives the headphones with ease where the X3II reaches its limits. So there is still a slight advantage for the X5 in regards to detail retrieval, clarity, musicality and fun.

 

Once I added the Cayin C5 amp to the X5, the soundstage opened up, more depth and width appeared and the music was more impactful. So in order to beat the X3II not only marginal but clearly, it needs help.

 

 

Line Out & Digital Out

For me this is an important function. I use the AUX line in in my car - and I use the digital out at home if I want to listen to music on my LCD2s via my DACMini CX or my Crack in the office. It’s also great if you want to try other gear with your own music without the hassle. Usually it’s easier for me to connect the Player to the DAC (Modi2Uber or DACMini) then use line out into the amps, so no unplugging of the whole setup, changing RCA to RCA - 3.5mm cable etc.

 

So, the digital out is “only” COAX but works extremely well. It’s digital, bits reach the DAC - nothing else to report….

 

Line out is important. I liked the DX50 for the ability to change the volume output on the line out as well. That helped match it better to some car stereos.

 

DAC use on a Computer

I didn’t try with a Windows machine as I currently prefer my Macs, especially when it comes to audio, the X3II is plug and play and I can just select bitperfect transport 24/192 in the menu - no driver to install, it just works out of the box. Like the X3 and X5 before the X3II - great job Fiio for making this so easy. Sound quality is as expected the same as if playing tracks from the memory card.

Conclusion

The X3II is amazing. It drove high impedance headphones like the T90 and HD650 well, has a very low noise floor with IEMs, sounds superb, works as a DAC/Amp on your PC/Mac, With the advancements in sound quality, I don’t see a competitor in its price range.

 

Everything has been improved from the X3 - and the performance is now VERY close to the X5. The only omission is that the player has no more internal memory.

 

For the recommended sales price, this device is a huge hit and I am sure Fiio will sell them by the boatload - hands down - a full recommendation from my side. 5 stars


 

THANKS to www.samma3a.com and @Mazen4samma3a for the review loaner!

Posted

Pros: Sound quality, size, build quality, UI, features, DAC functionality, native DSD

Cons: None

The unit I'm reviewing was provided courtesy of FiiO and Head-Fier, Brooko, as part of an Australia / New Zealand tour so thank you to both FiiO and Brooko for this opportunity! This unit is clearly marked as a review unit, but appears to be 100% production quality.

 

Overview

 

For a retail price of roughly $260 here in Australia, the X3K (as the 2ng gen X3 was known for a while) is a genuine bargain for a native DSD capable DAP boasting a comprehensive feature set. The biggest question for me though was how it would sound, but before we get to that, let's look at some of the features and specs.

 

Specifications

  • Dimensions:  97mm x 58mm x 16mm
  • Weight:  135g
  • Output:  3.5mm stereo jack
  • Recommended loads:  16 - 150 ohms
  • Power:  >200 mW to 32 ohms
  • Line out:  3.5mm stereo jack (shared with coaxial)
  • Line out level:  1.45 Vrms
  • Coaxial out:  3.5mm jack with adapter to coaxial RCA (shared with line out)
  • Supported formats:  DSD64, DSD128, APE, FLAC, WAV, WMA, ALAC, MP3, AAC, OGG
  • Sample rates and bit depth:  up to 192kHz and 24-bit for lossless PCM formats (FLAC, WAV, etc.)
  • Graphic EQ:  10 band
  • THD:  <0.001%
  • Crosstalk:  >102dB
  • Signal-to-noise ratio:  >114dB (A weight)
  • Battery life:  >11 hours (into a 32 ohm load with screen off)

 

There is no doubt that the engineers at FiiO know how to create technically excellent players and all of the specs here check out and suggest an incredibly proficient player, particularly when considering the price tag. Let's check out some of the other bits and pieces before we discuss subjective topics like sound quality.

 

Design and Functionality

 

FiiO X3K-0799The X3K (not the official name for the 2ng gen, but I will use it here to prevent confusion with the original X3) is beautifully built, much like the X1. With each new DAP that FiiO release, their build quality improves. They seem to be very good and listening to consumer feedback and taking action to create really top-notch players in terms of the fit, finish and interfaces of their players.

 

The X3K is all aluminium and finished in a titanium grey colour with black and silver accents. The layout is identical to the X1 with a 2" screen, rubberised scroll wheel with buttons in the centre and at the 'corners', and volume and power buttons up the left hand side of the player (when looking at the screen) along with a reset button inside a pinhole port. At the base of the X3K on the front is a small LED that shows different colours to signal power, low battery, charge status, etc. The two 3.5mm outputs are on top, a micro SD slot is on the right side, and a micro USB port is centred on the bottom edge of the player.

 

In terms of look and feel, the X3 is nearly flawless. It feels great, is really light, but not flimsy at all. This feels like a serious piece of gear, but is still light and small enough to be truly portable.

 

Interface

 

In addition to a really clean physical design, the user interfaceFiiO X3K-0802 (UI) of the X3 shows a lot of refinement on FiiO's part. Things have come a long way since the original X3. The menus are cleanly laid out with simple and obvious icons (for the most part) and easy navigation via the scroll wheel and centre button. You can also choose from 6 different themes which offer everything from minor variations to the stock FiiO look through to denim, wood panelling, and a really sexy cross-hatched charcoal texture. There's no doubt that the interface of the X3K is as good as anything else I've seen to date - not better, but as good - it's really excellent now and essentially a replica of the very good X1 interface, only with extra options.

 

Features

 

The X3K packs a few nice features that some users expect and some don't ever use.

 

Equaliser

 

The graphic equaliser is a 10-band affair that's easy to adjust, has a nice range of presets and works well on normal resolution tracks - it doesn't work on high bit rate files (i.e. DSD, 192/24 FLAC, etc.) just like the X5, most likely due to the processing power required. This isn't a big issue for me because I'm a non-EQ kind of guy, but that might bug some people.

 

Balance Control

 

FiiO X3K-0789Balance control is in demand more than you might think, particularly from people with a unilateral hearing loss (i.e. one ear hears better than the other) so the X3K will no doubt win some sales with that feature when combined with all the other things it has going for it.

 

DAC Capability

 

The X3K can also operate as a USB DAC with Windows (using an additional ASIO driver) and with Macs. It can even play DSD files from your computer via an additional software plugin so that's great news for people who are out and about with a laptop and a taste for great sounding music.

 

Miscellaneous Features

 

Finally, here are a few other things that the X3K has going for it:

 

  • Headphone detection allows the X3K to pause playback when the headphones are unplugged
  • Hibernation mode allows a low-power sleep mode that conserves battery, but also provides near instant resuming of playback
  • Inline earphone control support means you can play, pause, and change the volume from your earphone cord (for compatible earphones)
  • A nice range of accessories including a sexy looking brown leather case

 

So, all up the X3K looks to be a winner. It has a great feature set, is extremely well-built, extremely well priced, and offers functionality and compatibility on par with much pricier players. So does it sound like it costs or does it sound like it looks on paper?

 

Sound Quality

 

FiiO X3K-0817There is no doubt at all that the X3K sounds great - better than the original X3 and definitely better than it's baby brother, the X1. I'm almost convinced that this is the best bang-for-buck sound you can get, but it's not definitive and your personal tastes will come into the equation.

 

Rather than talk about the bass and treble and all those fine details that are really hard to differentiate when trying to compare different players, let me break down the overall listening experience from the X3K compared to the same experience (same tracks, etc.) on other devices. I'll also discuss how the X3K compares with varying loads, from sensitive IEMs through to challenging headphones.

 

Before I get into specifics, let me say that the X3K offers a quite neutral experience. It's not analytical or cold, but it also doesn't carry the same warmth of the original X3. The X3K is a player with nicely balanced sound that doesn't jump out as too warm, too cold, or too much of anything really and that's excellent - it'll let your earphones sound the way they're meant to rather than adding too much colour in the player. Nice work FiiO!

 

With IEMs

 

FiiO X3K-0791With the hyper-sensitive Shure SE846 there is noticeable hiss from the X3K. Now, I'm a bit hyper-sensitive to hiss so some people won't even notice what I'm hearing and it's not an issue once the music's playing, but it's there. I should also mention that there is a little bit of hiss from many players on the market, including the outstanding Shozy Alien, HUM Pervasion (to a lesser degree), and even my faithful iPod Video so the X3K isn't bad in this regard - it's actually quite normal.

 

With the higher impedance Noble Kaiser 10s, the hiss is gone so it's likely only an issue with super low impedance IEMs (like the SE846) and possibly with some of the more hiss-prone IEMs like the FitEar TG!334, but I don't own a pair to test unfortunately.

 

Power wise, the X3K's 120-step, dual gain volume control means that there's plenty of range to work with in low gain mode. I found myself at around 40-50 on the volume control for IEM listening in a quiet room.

 

With Headphones

 

For this test, I tried the Thinksound On1s (50 ohms) , Beyerdynamic DT1350s (80 ohms), and Ultrasone HFI-680s (75 ohms). Of this lot, the full-sized HFI-680s are the most demanding to drive and I do feel like the X3K struggled with them a little. They still sounded good, but not their best - highs were a bit edgy and the bass was lacking from what is quite a punchy headphone.

 

FiiO X3K-0793With the more portable (i.e. smaller drivers) DT1350 and On1, the X3K sounded great, providing plenty of power and authority to the sound. I was getting up towards volume 80 / 120, but that's still on low gain so there's no shortage of volume with the X3K - it will comfortably drive any headphone you're likely to use in portable situations, but you may find an amp helpful for more desktop style headphones and that's where the line out comes into play which I'll discuss shortly.

 

So, the X3K plays very well with all but the most sensitive / hiss-prone in-ears and even then it's quite acceptable even if not perfect. It also offers plenty of grunt for portable and efficient headphones, so as the portable player it's designed to be, the X3K ticks all the right boxes so let's discuss how it sounds compared to some other players you might have heard of or read about.

 

Versus Various Devices

 

iPod Video 5.5G: FiiO X3K-0807Compared to the iPod, the X3K brings a little more refinement to the sound and the separation is also better - everything is just cleaner. The sound from the X3K is also fuller with more weight and a little more body, but the X3K is flatter sounding - lacking a sense of depth and space. Technically, the sound is rendered perfectly well and is cleaner and sharper than the iPod, but it's all painted onto a flat canvas that stretches from left to right. If I had to choose one player over the other, I'd choose the X3K without a second thought, but I really wish FiiO could start to focus a little more on the subjective presentation of their sound, specifically a spatial and organic sound, rather than just technical accuracy.

 

FiiO X3K-0809Shozy Alien: This battle was a bit closer in terms of clarity, but the X3K had a slight edge in terms of bass extension and control. The bass from the X3K is really tight and punchy which keeps the music sounding energetic and dynamic. Overall, the X3K is probably slightly more technically proficient than the Alien, but the Alien might still be the more engaging listen due to its organic presentation and sense of space - the number one strength of the Alien and the one area where it beats basically every player on the market. Honestly, I would have a hard time choosing between these two because the Alien sounds a touch more engaging overall, but the X3K performs better technically and has so many more features.

 

FiiO X3K-0811HUM Pervasion: These two are surprisingly close in sound and that's a huge compliment to the X3K. In terms of signature they are almost identical, but the Pervasion wins in two key areas. Firstly it brings a greater sense of space into the soundstage despite the Pervasion being a little limited in this regard. Secondly, the sound from the Pervasion has a level of refinement that the X3K can't quite match.

 

DSD Performance

 

FiiO X3K-0813The DSD performance of the X3K is seamless and the player skips quickly between formats with no delays or pops or crackles so if you load up a mixture of MP3, FLAC, and DSD files you'll find a glitch-free listening experience.

 

I did notice a hint of processor noise (or something similar) at the beginning of the DSD tracks when things were quiet. It's completely inaudible when the music is playing and therefore doesn't really interfere, but I never noticed that type of noise with PCM format files.

 

Comparing identical tracks in DSD and FLAC (I converted the DSD file to 192/24 FLAC to ensure identical mastering), the DSD may have a slight edge in refinement, but it's so close as to be not worth debating. In short, the X3K provides an equivalent experience regardless of using FLAC or DSD which is great - you don't want a player that sounds noticeably better with one format because it'll have you converting or re-buying all your music and that's a pain.

 

Line Out Quality

 

FiiO X3K-0816The line out from the X3K is clean and detailed with no significant colouration. As a portable source to pair with an external amp, the X3K is very good. That's not to say the X3K needs an amp, but it's line out is 'up to scratch' if you want to use an amp.

 

To get a better handle on just how good it is, I compared it directly (and unfairly) with my Matrix X-Sabre DAC. I only did this because it was an easy way to have identical tracks playing that I could switch between instantly, but the results were astounding. The X-Sabre has an edge in detail and subtle cues (including depth and spatial cues), but it's a razor's edge. The X3K comes amazingly close to the X-Sabre in terms of signature, clarity, and overall subjective quality. That's right, this pocket-sized, $250 DAP stands toe-to-toe with a $1200+ desktop DAC and manages to lose only about 10% to the goliath in this match-up!! That's crazy and puts the X3K's DAC / line-out performance on par with or above the Pervasion, iFi Nano iDSD (and possibly Micro iDSD) and easily beats multiple desktop DACs that I've tried - wow!

 

The only thing holding the X3K back from perfection in this area is the tiniest lack of refinement around the edges of the high notes. It's a subtle distinction, but one worth making - the X3K doesn't beat top end DACs like the X-Sabre, but it has no right to be even playing in this ball park and that's what makes it supremely impressive.

 

Summary

 

FiiO X3K-0812Coming from owning the very good X5 and reviewing the good, but not exceptional X1, I really didn't expect huge performance from the X3K and perhaps even came into this review with a slightly negative bias, but I'm pleased to say that the X3K had everything required to completely change my preconceptions and convert me towards fandom. I'm not quite a fanboy now because the HUM Pervasion is still my dream player for the time being, but I have immense respect for the X3K and what FiiO have achieved and it has me very excited to see and hear the upcoming X5 2nd Generation and the first generation of the flagship X7.

 

If you're on the hunt for a compact, high quality, fully featured audio player you should absolutely, 100% check out the 2nd generation of  FiiO's X3 - it might be the most impressive product made by FiiO so far and that's saying something!

Posted

Pros: An amazing digital audio player for the music loving masses

Cons: If only they get to find out about it

Albaman Reviews FiiO’s X3 Gen 2

 

First; ten things you should know about me, a newbie reviewer

 

1 I appreciate technology for what it delivers but not the actual mechanics of delivery. So I lead with my ears to appreciate an old valve amp, a used cable or a new dac.

 

2 I love music. I’ve studied it, carelessly, I’ve played it, incompetently, but I use my reasonably well trained ears to listen to it, avidly.

 

3 I have luxuriated in high end hifi - WLM, Trafomatic, Accuphase - and equally flash headfi gear - Audeze, Sugden, Luxman - but now I have more sense than money, I’m very considered in my listening; from digital gear to analogue ear.

 

4 My portable products of choice have been a FiiO X5 (replacing an iBasso DX90) and Final Audio Design Heaven IVs (replacing RHA 750s) In support, a Cayin C5 for extra juice when required. In short, some decent midfi compromises.

 

5 I own  no MP3 compressed files, one CD (Sol Gabetta - Elgar Cello Concerto), and 1TB of high res PCM and DSD albums. You would probably not describe my music library as compromised.

 

6 I enjoyed a successful career in consumer research and marketing so I ‘get’ brand buyers and sellers and the relationships between them.

 

7 The expression ‘fit for purpose’ is not just an idea to me; it’s a personal mantra. No matter what else it can do, if it doesn’t deliver what it says on the tin, it doesn’t deliver.

 

8 Research and statistics are both important. But human hearing is uniquely individual, like a fingerprint. Technology is unquestionably objective but human listening is inescapably subjective.

 

9 My opinion on gear is based on how it sounds to me but never what it costs or who built it.

 

10 My goal with hifi can be surmised in one word. It’s only ever about listening pleasure. Be it pleasure per pound, unexpected pleasure, 1 + 1 = 3 pleasure or shared pleasure.



 

To my FiiO X3 Gen 2 review then…

 

In his book, The Tipping Point, Malcolm Bradbury argues “The tipping point is that magic moment when an idea, trend, or social behavior crosses a threshold, tips, and spreads like wildfire.” The idea that one small event can trigger enormous change is attractive and it has been proven time and again. Think bottled water instead of tap water or (mobile) phones for people not places or electronic books that glow in the dark.

 

Well, we may just have us a tipping point here.

 

Caution

This will not be a narrow product technical review or a wide-ranging equipment comparison by any measure. If you want to understand the ‘gearology’ of this DAP, I commend Brooko’s authoritative effort published at the beginning of this global launch tour. No, this is a strictly subjective assessment of a very ogle-worthy object; the second iteration  of FiiO’s X3 digital audio player.The FiiO X3 Gen 2.

 

So the review style may be new to you but don’t be afraid; different’s good...

 

My Cousin Vinny, a 1992 gem from 20thC Fox, featured Joe Pesci as a sartorially challenged New York lawyer of questionable provenance, defending a teenage relative wrongly accused of murder. (Accompanied by his adorable partner in crime-law, Marisa “my body clock is ticking” Tomei.)

 

In a pivotal scene, Vinny cross-examines a key prosecution ‘asset’ who claimed to see the murder from his living room. Vinny confronts the witness with a series of photos taken from his house...

 

“And you saw all this...through these thick glasses. Snap. And those net curtains. Snap. And dirty windows. Snap. And rusty fly screen. Snap. And trees in foliage. Snap. And bushes in bloom. Snap.” OK, not verbatim but you get the (exceedingly clouded) picture.  

 

It’s a lovely movie moment. And a wonderful analogy for listening to mediocre music on mediocre equipment. The iphone-earbud listener is several layers removed from  musical transparency; poor production, over-compressed files, token dacs, speech-centric amplifiers, multi-tasking technologies and head gear not much better at relaying music than garden hose. Even with a funnel on the end.

 

Market movement

Headfiers have known for some time that investing in better gear enabled them to remove many of these unwanted sound screens. But the level of investment required for premium portable players is substantial and, for most normal folk, unwarranted.

 

In the last two or three years, big brand players like Sony quietly joined the fray with their NWZs. Boutique operators like iBasso lifted their game with the DX90. Astell & Kern introduced BMW looks and performance...but at what might be considered closer to Ferrari prices.

 

Apple recognised their own game was up when they consigned the iPod to history. But not before cracking a quarter of a billion sales though. So the case for volume potential with music players has been made, I believe.

 

Then, in 2013, fledgeling Chinese (mostly mobile) music maker FiiO stepped into this gear germinating greenhouse and, well, started cleaning the music ‘windows’. Their window cleaner par excellence is the X5 and it has rightly gained recognition as one of the best performance-price offerings in the market. But at £250+ for the player alone it is, for the masses, a distinctly high rise viewing opportunity. Add decent in ear / over ear gear and sd cards loaded with high res files and that budget is doubled without effort.  Yes, a wonderful player - I own one myself - but not a mass market tipping point by any means.

 

But FiiO were learning. Fast. FiiO’s earlier effort, the X3 Gen 1, remained their nearly machine. Nearly windex-clear sound, nearly great tech, nearly fabulous design and nearly the first DAP to break through the glass ceiling separating specialist product appetite from global icon hunger. Their entry level X1 then broke the $100 barrier -  but without cracking the must have window.

 

Just two years after entering the mobile music glass house, FiiO have just smashed every pane in the DAP greenhouse with their second take on the X3. The X3...err...2. OK, I’m pretty sure the product’s name will not win many prizes. But its performance will. That, at least, is clear to see.

 

In a nutshell

The UK price will be circa £160. That’s the same as the ‘old’ X3. Or obsolete ipod money Your £160 gets you FiiO’s all new X3 Gen 2, with a CS4398 dac delivering 113db SNR, protective silicone case and assorted cables and screen protectors. Even free screen print options to personalise your player. It is less than 10cm x 6cm by 1.5cm and a larry lightweight 135g. It delivers up to 200mw across a 20-20 frequency response and should drive phones up to about 300ohm, efficiency dependent of course.

 

According to FiiO, improvements on its predecessor - the X3 Gen One - include a more refined and balanced sound signature, new UI including improved X series scroll wheel, new “digital audio architecture” (eg dual crystal oscillators = less jitter and more precision), new music playback capabilities (DSD Native, 10 band eq, custom playlists, in line remote support), better power management inc deep sleep mode and remaining battery life display.

 

Potentially, that’s a lot more X3 for your money.

 

Your flexible friend

This DAP plays anything from naughty mp3 (a shame) to native DSD (a joy). And it does all this effortlessly. It will work with most earphones on the market without recourse to hiss-steria. Portable phones are largely no problem. And, within reason, full scale on ear / over ear head gear is small beer for the X3... too. (I’d love to listen to Philips’ L2 / X2 phones on the X3 Gen 2; the synergy could be wonderful.)

 

It will also feed a separate hifi system and act as a dedicated dac for digital downloads. And right now, it is even driving my Sennheiser HD700s - paired with a portable head amp for enhanced and enriched performance. And it’s giving my prized X5 a serious run for its extra money.

 

This is normally the part of a review where a promising product is paired with pricier playmates. Not here though. As I confessed earlier, I’m  a firm believer in the legend “fit for purpose”. So, whilst the X3-2 could feed a £100 000 hifi room, and probably make a really good fist of it, I won’t be playing that game. ( I could drive a Ferrari round the Nurburgring in second gear but what would be the point?) No this particular vehicle is called a portable player for a reason.

 

So. As a portable (inside-outside) music player, how does it perform? Either with ear gear or dropped into a price paired domestic / office rig. Preceding reviews have been uniformly positive. This contribution is going to be different. No, for me the X3 Gen 2 is not a very good DAP. Let me explain.  I think this FiiO is actually a brilliant DAP. The X5 is a slightly up-market but very competitive player. The new X3 is a much more nimble and able competition destroyer. It is Apple-esque audiophilia without the Apple price.

 

Check my photographs. It’s beautiful. It is mellow metal, not pono plastic. And function more than matches form here. The scroll wheel just works and the surrounding menu buttons quickly become second nature. The screen is great. The size is pocket / purse perfect; more muscular than the X1. More handy than the X5.

 

A new headfi descriptor

As for how it sounds...it is gob-grinningly good. (ggg = even better than an involuntary smile inducer but not quite a Homer Simpson dribble maker.)

 

It’s traditional to divide sound performance analysis into distinct segments. You know; bass - lower and upper, mids...err...lower and upper, and highs...well...higher and higher. However, that would do this FiiO no favours. It is the X3 Gen 2’s seem-less even-handedness across these vertical layers that distances it from less balanced and less transparent peers. No fiery magnifying glass analytics here though. More open window, ever so slightly lush, landscaping.

 

For portable players driving in ear monitors, soundstaging is a tough ask. As we headfi-fans know, left ear is all left channel and right ear is all right channel so creating dimensional images is tougher than it is for room speakers which merely bias left and right channels instead of isolating them. But the X3 delivers a 3D listening experience admirably.

 

In the zone, outside the ears

Through budget compatible FAD Heaven 4s, I can clearly place a Beethoven string quartet violin just outside my left ear whilst the ‘cello is playing just outside right. With Chesky’s binaural Jazz in the New Harmonic, separation is even better and front-back layering is extended. The sax player is clearly in front of the drums and to my right. Kate Bush’s voice and piano are simultaneously realistic and distinct yet joyfully integrated in 50 Words For Snow. With full on Mahler (4th symphony), orchestration is, if you want to be really picky, just a fraction confined. But not by much and with Mahler you get a lot of players and a lot of notes for your money. Otherwise, you’ll hear no separation anxiety here.

 

But the above are merely five star features. The magic of the FiiO X3-2 is in the sound of music it delivers. Think big ticks for tone, texture and timbre. Big ticks. And music  playing is rendered properly percussive. (We get too used to the rougher edges of playing being filtered out of the digital equation. So instruments appear, unannounced, instead of grabbing our attention. Real music is never so polite.)

 

I want to hear the rosin vibrate off of a plucked string, trumpets triple tongued and clarinet keys clattered. I want to experience the sax player’s breath engage a reed to trigger tempting tenor tones. And singers simply seem more real when you can hear them breathe. And even playing close to the bridge of a ‘cello, I loved experiencing Sol Gabetta’s finger pads audibly strike at speed in her Elgar Concerto performance.

 

It’s just more real. And frankly, the X3 Gen 2 brings you closer to real music than should be possible for the price.

 

That good? Really?

 

Don’t just take my word for it in this review. My distinctly ‘unfi’ brother is a prime prospect for the new FiiO DAP. He has already enhanced his Sony Xperia listening with the lovely new FiiO E11K and a set of Brainwavz R3s. His listening taste extends from old rock to new blues with very little in between. On hearing the X3 Gen 2, he said:

 

“I like my Sony / FiiO combination but this little thing sounds way better AND it’s more compact. I think the sound (Bach Cello Suites through car stereo) is much cleaner.” His better half added: “If I knew about this, I’d much prefer it to an iPod. It’s a really neat design.” And my professional musician sister is excited just by what the X3 Gen 2 can do. Chalk up

 

 

 

two sales to FiiO.

 

I myself interviewed several DAPs before coming back to my much appreciated and appropriately named X5 ie it is better than players that cost 5X the price. And I have enjoyed FiiO’s portable amps - particularly the E12 - too. But I just wasn’t prepared for the sonic excellence of this newest player in their portable portfolio. I say again; a player that costs just north of a hundred and fifty quid!

 

If I was buying a new DAP today, I would be very hard pressed to choose between the X3-2 and the X5-1. Armed with prices, it would probably be a no brainer.

 

Conclusion

For portable music playing millions ready for something cooler, smarter, better, cheaper, the new X3 Gen 2 is the player they don’t yet know they covet. It is, potentially, a game-breaker product. Like high-tech icons before it, it combines beautiful design, brilliant performance and outstanding value in an exceptionally compact package. FiiO have an extraordinary window of opportunity here.

 

I hope they can see that they are on the verge of a mass market tipping point with their X3 Gen 2 product. They just have to let the waiting millions beyond headfi know it now exists.

 

**********



 

Supporting evidence

Review equipment: FiiO X3ii, FiiO X5, FiiO E11, FAD Heaven IV, Brainwavz R3, Sennheiser HD700, Cayin C5. The word midfi springs to mind.

 

Review music: Mahler 4th Symphony - San Francisco Symphony  / SFS, Kate Bush 50 Words For Snow / HDTracks, Bach St Mathew Passion / Berlin Phil Digital Concert Hall, Chesky Jazz in the New Harmonic / HD Tracks, Beethoven Piano Concertos 3, 4, 5 / Scottish Chamber Orchestra / Linn, Tony Furtado Special Event 30 / Bluecoast. The word eclectic springs to mind

 

I know both the equipment and the music listed above intimately. I know how it’s meant to sound, how it can sound with different combinations of my gear. The only new item in the mix was the review item, loaned to me for a week by those awfully clever FiiO people.

 

This review was conducted over fifty hours of intensive listening in April 2015.

FiiO X3 2nd gen Ultraportable Hi-Res DAP
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Description:

To be launched in April 2015, the FiiO X3 2nd gen takes the torch from FiiO's first ever DAP, the original X3 from 2013. It will support native DSD decoding, in-line remotes on headphones, deep-sleep mode for instant-on usage without battery drain, and comes with dual crystal oscillators to support all sample rates with some of the highest fidelity in its class.

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